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Scenes from the Bathhouse
and Other Stories of Communist Russia
by Mikhail Zoshchenko
TRANSLATED, WITH AN INTRODUCTION, BY SIDNEY MONAS
STORIES SELECTED BY MARC SLONIM
Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press
COPYRIGHT BY THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN 1961
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOG CARD NO. 61-13499
PUBLISHED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA BY
THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN PRESS AND SIMULTANEOUSLY
IN TORONTO, CANADA, BY AMBASSADOR BOOKS LIMITED
MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
DESIGNED BY STUART ROSS
Mikhail Zoshchenko was born in 1895. His father was an
artist, a nobleman, and a bit of a philanderer. His mother was a
woman who demanded much and received little. Distressed by
her son's behavior, she accused him of being like his father "a
solitary" and "a frozen heart." It wasn't exactly a happy family,
but intellectually cultivated and financially comfortable.
He grew up in St. Petersburg, that "unreal city" of fogs and
floods, the capital of a decadent empire, and the source of a
great literary mythology that expressed the alienation of man
from nature and from his own humanity. As a writer Zoshchenko
remained fairly immune to the power of this myth. His positivist
bent was too strong. He wrote as a detached observer of the street
and the everyday, of manners rather than morals, of the common-
place, rather than of the phantasmagoria of Gogol and Bely, the
writers of the myth. As a personality, however, he was a true
alienated product of the "artificial" city and, like many great
comedians, a morose, melancholic, estranged man, driven to
humor and "play" as his only means of handling a gross and
He was a strange, frail, sensitive, detached, proud, and rather
difficult child. He read a great deal, especially in the biologic
sciences, which caught his interest at an early age. He un-
doubtedly read Gogol and Leskov. His independent spirit made
school uncomfortable for him, and he did not do well there. He
found it difficult to forgive a schoolmaster who commented
"Rubbish!" on one of his early compositions.
World War I broke out while Zoshchenko was still enrolled
as a student at the University of St. Petersburg, and he hastened
to volunteer. He was several times wounded, several times deco-
rated, and promoted rapidly to the rank of major. He suffered
not only the hardships of war and the responsibilities of com-
mand, but the vagaries of his own temperament by no means
a heroic one.
In the summer of 1916 he was gassed, and his health went to
pieces. Then, assigned by the Kerensky government to administer
a military post office in Archangel at the time of the Allied
occupation of that port, he rejected an opportunity he had there
proffered by an attractive Frenchwoman of emigrating to Paris.
Soon after that, he volunteered for the Red Army and saw action
again in Lithuania, but his health forced him to retire within six
Zoshchenko's early melancholy persisted and drove him to
take on a series of bizarre jobs. He worked as an instructor in
poultry husbandry on an experimental collective farm; he was a
detective, a professional gambler, a telephone operator for the
border guard, and (for him, perhaps the most bizarre job of all)
a clerk-typist. On the whole, he preferred nonclerical, nonintel-
lectual work; no job, however, held him for long. In 1921 he was
back in his native Petrograd, discovering his real and permanent
profession that of a writer.
In the early twenties Zoshchenko was associated with a group of
young writers who called themselves the Serapion Brethren after
the hermit Serapion as he is portrayed in a tale by E. T. A. Hoff-
mann, a writer they admired. These young men were what
Trotsky called "fellow travelers." They were willing to go along
with the Bolsheviks but were eager to maintain a certain inde-
pendence of outlook and to avoid party discipline. In response to
the enthusiasm of party literati for using the arts as effective
propaganda, Victor Shklovsky, a talented critic and a Serapion
Brother, posed a question: "Can you drive nails with a samovar?"
He answered: "Yes, you can. But that is not what it is for."
The Serapion Brethren did not favor "art for art's sake." Their
preoccupation with style was of a very different kind from that
of the symbolists. They abhorred the mystique of inspiration and
the cult of art. They were not religious. Symbolism tasted stale
to them. The Brethren preferred to think of themselves as crafts-
men rather than geniuses. They tried for a fresh language based
on popular usage, on the vocabulary and syntax of the street and
countryside. What they had over reality was not so much a firm
grip as a light touch.
These men were vivid and original experimenters, and Russian
literature of the twenties owes much to them. Their independence
of spirit was not so deep, however, as to involve them in tragic
consequences when the relative freedom of the twenties came to
an" end. They did not struggle too hard when independence had
to be abandoned. Of the prose writers of the group, Zoshchenko
alone continued to write in much the same vein in the thirties as
he had in the twenties. He was still not a hero, but he had a cer-
tain Schweikian talent for personal survival and for survival as
Zoshchenko is a very funny writer: that much needs no argu-
ing. He is funnier to Russians than he is to those who see his
stories at a considerable distance from the situations they describe
and from the language that is so peculiarly appropriate to them.
Yet, he is as far from being a local folk-humorist as he is from
being a conventional, "classical" satirist. If he is a satirist at all,
it is in the more ancient, original sense of the term a writer of
satyr plays. His theme is not the corruption of morals, but brute
energy and animal desire which burn through manners as through
a cardboard grate.
The theme which runs through all of Zoshchenko's works is the
fiery resistance nature offers to history. He himself is a detached
observer, neither on one side nor the other. He has been burned
Zoshchenko's technique is that of the skaz, the oral tale. The
tale is supposed to have a moral, instructional point, to illustrate
something; that is the excuse for telling and listening. But the
point gets lost on the way: the storyteller is caught up in the
story itself or simply succumbs to the delight of having an audi-
ence. It is himself he expresses, and not the moral. Either he loses
it completely and arrives at a conclusion as unexpected for him
as it is for his audience, or he tacks it on by force majeure, ex-
posing either his own clay feet or the insubstantiality of all con-
clusions, or both. In Russian literature it was Leskov who first
developed this technique, derived from popular storytelling. The
narrator is himself a character, whom we come to understand
through the words and expressions he uses and misuses, his repe-
titions, digressions, the things he chooses to talk about, and the
things we know are there between the lines but which he is clearly
incapable of expressing. The difference between the skaz and the
ordinary "point-of-view" story or novel is, first of all, its oral
quality the sound of the spoken voice and, secondly, the un-
tutored, "primitive" nature of the narrator, his unself-conscious-
ness. Among American writers, Ring Lardner uses this technique
in a number of places in his baseball stories, and most success-
fully in the story called "Haircut." However, Lardner was much
more of a moralist than either Leskov or Zoshchenko. He used
the technique to condemn the narrator or to induce the reader
to feel sorry for him. Leskov and Zoshchenko do this to a far
lesser degree. As in Lardner, the narrator inadvertently expresses
his own poshlost his vulgarity, his trashiness, the cheap fake of
his pretensions but this is less important than the sheer absurdity
of tiie tricks nature plays with him. Leskov was capable of sus-
taining this kind of interest over considerable length. Zoshchenko,
like most moderns, is shorter-winded, but the brevity of his stories
is part of their effect.
They are composed with care, with attention to details of
diction, inflection, and rhythm. This is by no means obvious, and,
indeed, the effect would be lost if it were. The materials are so
primitive that the reader would instantly resent any kind of ob-
vious manipulation on Zoshchenko's part as grossly unfair. The
effects of spontaneity and immediacy, of the candid photograph,
the sketch made hastily on the spot exactly as observed, the tape
recording, are all indispensable to Zoshchenko's art.
The situations that provide the material for his stories are the
most common and ordinary details of everyday Soviet reality,
familiar not only to the average Soviet citizen but even to the
casual tourist: the housing shortage, the scarcity of consumers'
goods and the inefficiency of consumers' services, bad roads,
bureaucracy and red tape, the ferocious juxtapositions of back-
wardness and material progress. These things are not merely the
background for the stories: they determine motives, they shape
or obliterate intentions, they conceal, they expose, they frustrate,
they assume a shape and a character of their own, and they are
felt as a natural force almost as intractable and indifferent to
human concern as the desert or the sea. They may be tricked or
circumvented, but they cannot be made to care; moreover, they
will inevitably leave their stamp on the trickers and circumventers.
A person may resemble the desert; the desert is never like a man.
Personal problems and private griefs, fine feelings and an
aesthetic sense, are reduced, against this desert, to the scale of
absurdity. It isn't fidelity or infidelity in marriage that counts; it's
the availability of an apartment. People will, of course, attempt
to inflate their feelings in talk, but they are betrayed by the
language they use. The desert is not only around them, it is in
Zoshchenko uses careless language carefully. His narrators are
not illiterate peasants, but they are usually not far removed from
that condition. Their talk is anything but folksy. It is a weird
mixture of peasant idiom, misunderstood highfalutin phrases,
rhetorical flourishes, explanatory asides that are anything but
explanatory, repetitions, omissions, propaganda jargon absurdly
adapted to homey usage, instructional pseudoscientific words,
foreign phrases, and proverbial cliches joined to the latest party
slogans. For his diction and syntax, even more than for the situa-
tions in which they occur, Zoshchenko was charged with "carica-
ture." In his autobiography, however, Zoshchenko insists that he
merely records the language of the streets, arranging and select-
ing, it is true, but not exaggerating.
The struggle between nature and history, backwardness and
revolution, produces the kind of anomalous situation that
Zoshchenko delights in, and he swoops like a hawk on those
peculiarities of the Russian language and its usage which reflect
that struggle. His verbal "soup," the words he chooses for his
palette, are often themselves the product of the kind of situation
he is writing about. Take the story "Kocherga": here, the action
centers entirely on the peculiarities of this everyday word.
Kochergd means "a poker," and nothing could be more ordi-
nary. However, its associations are with dark little houses heated
by wood stoves around which bearded faces nod. It is out of place
in the office building of a modern bureaucracy. Because of the
shortage of space, a new state institution is housed in an old
building that has no central heating and is kept warm by means
of six wood stoves located in different parts of the building. The
old stoker tends these, mumbling into his beard as he carries his
kochergd from one to the other. When an employee who acci-
dentally bumps into him has her hand burned by the poker, the
old peasant shows himself surprisingly on the side of history and
suggests to the manager of the establishment a rationalization of
his work. If there were a poker by each stove, the risk of singeing
employees could be avoided. All the manager has to do is order
five more pokers from the warehouse, but here the manager comes
Although it is a perfectly common word, kochergd, is of Tartar
origin (another aspect of its dark association) and has grammati-
cal peculiarities. In Russian, the number five takes the genitive
plural of the noun but what is the genitive plural of kochergd?
Nobody knows. The manager is a bureaucrat; he cannot afford
to consult other institutions, such as the Academy of Sciences;
it wouldn't do for his dignity and career. He exhausts all intel-
lectual resources within his own establishment. In desperation
he even calls on the stoker he may be a peasant but he is a
specialist in stoves "been around them all his life." The stoker
responds, using, naturally, the diminutive form so dear to peasant
speech. For dignity, that won't do either: the manager doesn't
want to be taken for a peasant. Finally, he attempts to resolve
his dilemma by calling in a member of his legal staff to draft an
order which will obtain the "five pokers" without having to refer
to them directly. The resulting document is a masterpiece, but it
comes to nothing. There is a shortage; there aren't any pokers.
The warehouse answers using the diminutive form.
Zoshchenko's longer stories, which he calls novelle, are literary
parodies. They are what happens when poshlost claims for itself
not the intelligence but the sentiment of genius. "Michel Siniagin"
is a parody of the literary memoirs that appeared with such
frequency both in Russia and abroad in the ten years or so fol-
lowing the Revolution, written by men of the symbolist genera-
tion who had met Tolstoi or seen Blok disappearing around the
corner. "Love" is a parody of the gnomic wisdom-literature & la
Rozanov, dear to the apocalyptic generation of the Russian intel-
ligentsia. Zoshchenko never forgave the schoolmaster and the
editors who wanted him to "write like a classic." He takes the
pretension to style and the pretension to fine feeling into the world
of the housing shortage. It bounces like an oversized lead balloon.
The lead balloon is one kind of literary parody Zoshchenko
uses; there is another, which he uses much more subtly, which we
might call the cork anchor. In the story called "An Amusing
Adventure," Zoshchenko adapts the traditional form of bourgeois
bedroom farce to his own abbreviated story form and to the
"new class" of the Soviet overprivileged. It would be a mistake,
however, to see this as a satire on "new class" morality.
Zoshchettko does not seem to have anything against the privileged
status of his protagonists, nor does he seem to have anything
against their marital infidelity. True, he makes fun of their lies
and deceptions; he doesn't like lies. But who does? The story is,
in fact, completely lacking in moral bite. The point, if we must
tyave a point beyond the brio of the story itself, is that nature is
s^ll with us, even in the socialist society; that having a bedroom
at all is often more important than who sleeps in it; that rationality
is a convention like marriage, and a pretty frail one; and that
contrary to the usual ending of bourgeois farce, bedroom tangles
do not lend themselves easily to rational solution, but only to
further bedroom tangles if one has a bedroom, that is.
In the story called "Liaisons Dangereuses" the parody, this
time of Choderlos de Laclos' great psychological novel, is even
more subtle. In the French novel, the supremely intelligent and
self-conscious hero has succeeded in mastering his animal nature
and completely subordinating it to his will and intellect, which
are committed to power that is, to asserting his superiority over
other human beings. His greatest "success" is his own self-destruc-
tion. Unlike the other works which Zoshchenko parodies, "Liai-
sons Dangereuses" is a model of brevity and lucidity of style. But
Zoshchenko's very stupid hero manages to achieve the same re-
sult by the opposite means in much briefer compass!
It should be abundantly clear by now that Zoshchenko was not
a typical satirist of the period of the New Economic Policy (the
NEP, 1921-28) like Ilf and Petrov. That period was, neverthe-
less, peculiarly congenial to him. Not only was it a period of
vigorous experimentation in all fields especially the arts dur-
ing which his stories could pass as "samo-kritika" ("self-criti-
cism," dear to the Bolsheviks, in which everything can be taken
for a ride except the big boys on top and the policy they make),
but the NEP itself created a rather obvious Zoshchenko-like
world. It was a period during which a prominent Bolshevik
(Bukharin) put on the mask of Guizot to urge the still uncol-
lectivized Russian peasants to "enrich themselves." It was a period
during which free enterprise was considered embarrassing but
necessary, and during which the new socialist society suffered all
the ills its leaders attributed to capitalism unemployment, graft,
exploitation but during which it was still relatively free and
uncoerced. The interaction of the old and the new, the ideal and
the real, the brilliant and the backward, in the landscape of an
underdeveloped and rather primitive economy, produced Zosh-
chenko types and Zoshchenko situations with a profusion that
even the talented Ukrainian writer from Leningrad could not take
full advantage of.
From the time of the Five- Year plans, Zoshchenko's life as a
writer became increasingly hazardous. In 1946 he was singled
out, along with Anna Akhmatova, for particularly violent attack
by no less a party figure than Zhdanov, a pseudo critic, who called
him a "pseudo writer." The story Zhdanov attacked most par-
ticularly and crudely was the curiously innocent little parable,
"The Adventures of an Ape." From that time on, Zoshchenko
published little a few stories, a few articles. In the early days of
the thaw, he wrote a few sketches on writing and writers which
appeared in the humor magazine Krokodil mildly courageous
pieces, not uninteresting but undistinguished. In general, his
stories after 1946, though not different in substance from his
earlier work, lack the force and fun of the real Zoshchenko.
He died in 1958 at what, for him, was a fairly ripe old age. An
edition of his collected stories appeared shortly after his death and
was quickly sold out. He seems to have left behind no imitators
(with the possible exception of K. himself) and no disciples, and
his name no longer appears in print in the Soviet Union, even
For the nontotalitarian reader it is at first a little difficult to
understand the violence of Zhdanov's obliterating speech. It is
true that Zoshchenko makes bureaucrats look absurd, that he ex-
poses the inefficiencies and incompatibilities of daily life in the
Soviet Union, and that he is more than a little wistful about the
goods famine. But these things are well within the pale of samo-
kritika. One can find their equivalents in almost any issue of
Pravda or Krokodil. What, then, was the real reason?
A "pseudo writer": an interesting expression. It is a little like
calling Harry Truman a "pseudo politician." The point is that
Zoshchenko was a real writer and nothing but a writer, and that
in spite of a few deliberately disconcerting gestures to the con-
trary, he never tried to drive nails with a samovar. In a totali-
tarian society, that is reason enough to blast away. However,
there were even better ones.
Reading one or a few stories of Zoshchenko is not the same as
reading him in bulk. He is, obviously, a very funny writer. Never-
theless, the over-all effect of his work is anything but funny. He
leaves one with the sense of a dreary, depressing, mournful, al-
most intolerable world. One might well exclaim, as Pushkin was
supposed to on reading Gogol: "How sad is our Russia!" More-
over, Zoshchenko's "objective correlatives" are very much more
obviously there, in the real world, than Gogol's were. It is not
so much a question of his violation of this or that canon of social-
ist^ realism, of his remaining inside or outside the bounds of
samo-kritika> as of the total effect of his work. Altogether, one can
hardly claim that Zoshchenko's stories would bolster the manda-
tory optimism of a Soviet citizen.
There is a short preface appended to one of the hospital stories.
In it Zoshchenko states that Krokodil had entrusted him with a
number of letters to the editor complaining of treatment in Soviet
hospitals and had commissioned him to write either a conven-
tional article, in the samo-kritika vein, or a sketch. He claims that
he decided, after deliberation, on the latter; but we cannot be-
lieve for a moment that he deliberated at all. Any or even all of
the details might appear in a conventional Soviet article; however,
the hospital we see is a Zoshchenko hospital, and surely he could
have created no other. It is the essence of everything that is wrong
with hospitals at their worst, where science (which Zoshchenko
respects almost as Gogol respected religion) goes astray in the
hands of a contemptuous, case-hardened bureaucracy.
Again, Zoshchenko has never created a single "positive hero"
(a must, for Soviet writers) one that Zhdanov could look on
with approval. Few of the stories are without some human pathos,
and some (like "The Crisis," one of his funniest) actually ap-
proach the humor of Charlie Chaplin; unlike Chaplin's films,
however, Zoshchenko's "little fellows" rarely came out on top.
For the most part, his protagonists are fools, knaves, charlatans,
fakes, poseurs, reeking of poshlost. There are some exceptions.
Nazar Ilich Sinebriukhov (the hero of "Victoria Kazimirovna"),
although vamped by a false ideal, has heroic traits. So does the
protagonist of "My Professions." However, most of his people
are victims either of themselves, or of history, or of nature, or
of all three.
Let us examine more closely what happens when Zoshchenko
takes nature to the bathhouse. You can't do without a public bath-
house when there's an acute housing shortage. There is some-
thing elemental and at the same time microcosmic about this
locale, and Zoshchenko returns to it obsessively. There are three
bathhouse stories in this collection, written about twenty years
apart. The first is by far the funniest and makes the most vivid
impression, and the other two depend on one's having read the
first for their effect. For one thing, all three stories take place in
the same bathhouse. By taking a good look at the d6cor, by noting
how the arrangements change, and by listening to the quality of
the talk, one can learn something of what the Five- Year plans
have done, and what they have not done.
The first story is Chaplinesque. The "little fellow" is frustrated
by the crude and irrational arrangements at every turn. He needs
tickets to get his clothes back. "But where is a naked man going
to put tickets?" He can't get himself clean because the other
bathers, scrubbing out their dirty laundry, keep splashing him.
He is denied even the elementary pleasure of hearing the soap
squeak as he washes himself. Frustration at every point.
In the second story, conditions have improved considerably.
Manners are more civilized but only on the surface. Clothes are
stolen. The manager who barges in when the theft is reported
turns out to be a woman who embarrasses everyone in the men's
dressing room. The "little fellow" who had his clothes stolen turns
out, after some administrative confusion, to have been a thief
himself. The problems here are already a little more complex.
The third story is scarcely funny at all. It is a "symbolic" story,
not the sort of thing Zoshchenko does best. It ends on a note of
real gloom, which Zoshchenko's attempt to modify by rather me-
chanical means does little to attenuate. The bathhouse by this
time is everything a public bathhouse should be. The bathers are
decorous and civilized. The manager is still a woman, the same
woman, but elderly now and with some respect for the dignity of
her male customers. Yet, something is wrong, in a deeper and far
more complicated way. There is a malady.
One of the attendants is a bright-eyed young lad from the
country. What is he doing, working at a job like this? He has am-
bition but no imagination. One of the customers is a stuffy,
unpleasant, moralistic papa, who keeps lecturing his snively little
boy (his name, shades of Gogol, is Icarus!) on public behavior.
Another is an even more unpleasant, and even sinister, butt-
insky who can't wait to denounce someone to the police. The
central figure is an elderly mechanic who has earned a Soviet
fortune by working for years at bonus wages in the Far East, for
a motive that has now become irrelevant, and who carries his
wealth as though it were an albatross. He cannot spend it; he
cannot give it away; he is not a miser and takes no joy in keeping
it for its own sake. "It's only money." However, in this case it is
symbolic money. The old mechanic has won out against nature,
but in the winning he has had to make himself the kind of man
for^whom the victory is useless. He leaves the bathhouse in deep
melancholy. Zoshchenko doesn't bring this one off too well. This
bathhouse is almost bathos; but against the background of the
two other stories it is not without a certain power.
The cumulative effect of Zoshchenko's stories is, as I have
noted, a depressing one. His work is poor in positive figures and
entirely lacking in heroes of the imperative never-never-land type
that socialist realism requires. In this struggle with nature, there
are moments of real pathos and occasional little victories, but no
triumphs. If orthodox Soviet critics try to palm off Gogol's night-
mare world as "the Russia of his time," they would like to pass off
Zoshchenko's Russia as a misfit "pseudo writer's" nightmare, or
still better, ignore it entirely.
One aspect of Zoshchenko's work is depressing in a different
sense: his curious lack of development as a writer. The third bath-
house story, it is true, involves a far more complex situation than
the first; but Zoshchenko's means are not up to it. His successful
pieces, in spite of their enormous range of incidents and their
variety of observed detail, have a curious sameness. Nor is this a
function of their brevity alone. (One has only to compare an
early Chekhov story with a later one to grasp what a writer's
development means. ) Nor is it the limitation of his talent. At least
there are a few striking indications that this is not the case.
"Victoria Kazimirovna," one of his very early stories, written in
1917 and published in his first volume, is of a quite different di-
mension than the rest of his work. The gallows humor, the crude
and yet complex cogitations of Nazar Il'ich Sinebriukhov, his
peasant's way of looking out for himself, knowing his life isn't
worth much but that he has no other, his infatuation with the
strumpet-aristocrat, Victoria Kazimirovna these have a depth
and a resonance and a poignance that is lacking elsewhere: "Only
I remembered then just how that crow had flown over me ... Och,
I pulled myself together." That crow is Sinebriukhov's vision of
his own death. Isaac Babel might have been glad to have written
There is also that moment in the brief sketch called "Confes-
sion" that inexpressible moment of terror when baba Fekla
realizes that the priest doesn't believe in God either. And there is
the strange case of the autobiography, which deserves some
In 1943, during the war, when a Soviet victory over the Nazi
invaders was in the air but still a long way off, Zoshchenko began
to publish in serial form an intensely personal prose work called
Before the Sun Rises, subtitled "a novella." It was not a conven-
tional autobiography but took the form of a Freudian self -analysis
only the form, for the "flashbacks" are anything but free asso-
ciations. They are concentrated evocations of the utmost sim-
plicity and most careful composition.
Zoshchenko begins with his young manhood and pushes further
and further back to the dawn of his consciousness. Where con-
scious memory fails him, he begins to draw on his dreams, and
on Freud and Pavlov for their meaning, to discover the forces
that shaped his infancy and to answer the question he poses at the
beginning: Why am I such a melancholy man? He never answers
the question. Possibly he never intended to. At any rate, publica-
tion was discontinued after three issues, and Zoshchenko was
violently attacked in the party journal Bolshevik for his concern
with himself, for his "nasty" friends and relations, for his interest
in sex, for mentioning Freud, for being Zoshchenko. One can
never be certain about such things, but in my opinion this tirade
suggests as good a reason as any for Zoshchenko's over-all lack
of development as a writer. The only directions in which he might
have been able to move were padlocked for him from the outside.
Some of the brief flashbacks are masterpieces. "Nerves" has,
again, the Babelian touch. A number of others have a poignance
and depth that set them altogether apart from the rest of Zosh-
chenko's work. Their humor and irony are altogether gentler and
more complex almost Chekhovian than the humor of the
stories. The portrait that emerges is of a detached, restless,
haunted, gentle, and very intelligent man in a rough world. But
is the man Zoshchenko?
One has an almost uncanny sense, as one reads, of the author
outside himself if it is, indeed, himself he is describing, for the
work is properly "a novella" and not an autobiography at all.
There is a sad and at the same time deliciously funny moment
toward the end of the published fragment, in which Zoshchenko is
finally aware that the obsessive dread that has haunted him all his
life is connected with water. He goes through the many notebooks
he has unwittingly accumulated, filled with objective but entirely
useless information about water: the percentage of water in the
human body, in the world at large, the depth of seas, and the
havoc wrought by floods. Without meaning to imply that it has
tl%same power or that the effect was arrived at by the same
means, or that it is in any way a scene of comparable achievement,
there is, nevertheless, something here that reminds me of Aris-
tophanes' image, in Plato's The Symposium, of the sundered
halves of the once-whole human self pursuing each other across
the great waste of the world. And one might recall Socrates' seem-
ingly casual remark, at the end of the banquet, that comedy and
tragedy are one.
Victoria Kazimirovna 1 rfWTFTMT<5
A Metropolitan Deal 12 <- UJN 1 EJN 1 &
What Good Are Relatives? 17
The Aristocrat 20
The Bathhouse 23
The Patient 26
The Overshoe 32
The Economy Campaign 35
The Actor 37
Rachis [Paris] 40
The Crisis 42
Kitten and People 45
The Electrician 47
The Receipt 49
M. P. Siniagin 52
A Weak Container 74
Bathhouse and People 78
A Romantic Tale 82
Poor Liza 88
An Amusing Adventure 93
Liaisons Dangereuses 101
Personal Life 105
My Professions 709
On Pushkin's Anniversary 139
Houses and People 144
The Story of My Illness 151
A Happy Game 155
A Last Unpleasantness 159
An Instructive Story 163
Kochergd (The Poker) 766
The Photograph 770
The Adventures of An Ape 774
An Extraordinary Event 181
In the Bathhouse 787
Before the Sun Rises: A Novella 796
I've never been in America and I don't mind telling you I don't
know a thing about it.
When it comes to foreign powers, though, I know Poland. And
I can damn well expose it.
I spent three years on Polish soil in the German war . . . And,
no! I don't care for Polacks.
There's every kind of slyness in their nature, I know.
Take a woman.
A woman of theirs will kiss your hand.
Only when you get to her hut, it's: "Nothing doing, pan."
And she goes and wipes off your hand.
You just can't do this to a Russian man.
That peasant of theirs is absolutely a sly one. He's always
going around clean, beard trim, saving up money.
Well I'll do a little clarifying of their nation for you. Take
Upper Silesia . . .
Now, please, why should the Polack have Upper Silesia? Why
this mockery of the German nation?
So live as a separate power if you want, all right, have your
own monetary unity, but why such an impossible demand?
No, I don't like the Polacks.
So it's like this: I met this Polish miss, and she was the kind
could make me sympathize for Poland, better, I think, if one
doesn't visit this people.
Well, I just made a mistake.
I don't mind telling you, such a wonder came over me, I was
in such a fog, that this charming beauty, no matter what she'd
say, I'd up and do it.
Let's say I wouldn't agree to murder a man, my hand would
shake. And there I murdered one, and another one, too. Mur-
dered an old, old miller, and even if not by hand but only by way
of a little personal slyness of my own.
And I myself, sad to think, approached this Polack girl frivo-
lously, just like a bridegroom, even trimmed my beard and
kissed her vulgar hand . . .
There was a Polish village called Krevo.
On one end there was a little hill, and the Germans had dug
in. On the other, opposite end, a little hill, and we had dug in.
And this Polish village was left lying there in the ravine between
The Polish inhabitants, certainly, had been told to clear out,
but there were some who just couldn't stand the idea of leaving
their goods behind, so they stayed.
And how they managed to exist there it's fearsome to ponder.
The shells whistle and whistle over them, but they don't mind.
They're Polacks. They live in their own way.
We came as their guests.
You might say we were on reconnaissance, but on our way
we would absolutely wind up in a Polish hut.
More and more we would wind up at the miller's.
There existed just such an old, old miller.
His old woman would always say he has, she would say,
some money. Call it capital. But he just won't say where.
Seems he promised to tell before his death, but meanwhile for
some reason he's afraid, and he hides it.
And this is exactly right about the miller he hid his little pile.
He told me all about it once, in a heart-to-heart talk.
He said before he died he wanted to get some full pleasure
out of family life.
Let them, he says, spoil me a little. Because, just tell them
where the little pile is, they'll strip it like bark off a lime tree and
throw it away on their lovers, even though they're my own blood
I understood this miller and even felt sympathy for him. Only
I wondered how he could get his full pleasure out of family life,
because he has this disease, and I noticed his nails were blue.
But they catered to the old man.
The old man grouches and plays the fox, and they keep their
eyes fixed on him and they look and they tremble before him,
and they're scared he won't tell them about the money.
This miller had a family. His wife was getting on. And he had
a stepdaughter, that charming beauty, the Miss Victoria Kazimi-
I was just telling you that sophisticated story about his excel-
lex|py the old prince, and of course I wouldn't tell you anything
that wasn't true, and I was telling you about those damn picky
whores and how they were beating me with an instrument, only
at that time there was not yet the beautiful Polack Victoria
Kazimirovna . . . And could not yet be. She was another time
and in another business.
And this is what I, forgive me, a poor peasant, went through.
There was this Victoria Kazimirovna, daughter of the old, old
And it was to her we came as guests.
And how did it all turn out?
From the very first days you might say there were kind of
relationships between us.
I remember once we arrived at the miller's . . .
We're sitting around giggling, and Victoria Kazimirovna picks
me out of the bunch and plays up to me. You know how, some-
times with her shoulder, sometimes with her foot.
Feh, you, I break out in admiration, you're something I like!
It was a charming occasion.
I was still on my guard then, and when I left her I kept my
Only a bit later she starts taking me by the hand, and admiring
me all over the place.
She says: I, Mr. Sinebriukhov, could even love you. (That's
just the way she said it.) And I already have a something in my
breast, even though you are not a handsome youth.
Only, she says, I have a little favor to ask of you. Save
me, she says, for God's sake. I want to leave home and go to
Minsk or some such Polish city somewhere around there, because
you can see for yourself I'm wasting away here for the chick-
ens to laugh at. My father, the old, old miller, has capital, so it is
necessary to discover where he keeps it. It is necessary for me to
live on money. I, she says, wouldn't do anything bad to my father,
but if it isn't today, it's tomorrow he will die of quinsy and I fear
he will not tell about his capital.
Here I started getting surprised. But she just sobs it all out,
looks into my eyes, and goes on admiring.
Ah, she says, Nazar IPich, Mr. Sinebriukhov, you are the most
cultivated and charming man here and somehow you will manage
And this is how I came to ponder such cunning: because I could
see her beauty going to waste for nothing.
I'll tell the old man, think I, the old, old miller, that everyone
from the village Krevo is being evacuated ... He will undoubtedly
dig for his goods . . . And then we'll be there to propose he should
The next day I go to their place. My own beard is trimmed, you
know, and I put on a clean shirt, and there I am just like a bride-
groom on parade . . .
Now, Victorichka, I say, it'll all be taken care of.
I go up to the miller.
That's the way it is, says I; now, says I, Rear Company is going
to give you an order tomorrow to clear out all inhabitants from
the village Krevo on account of military activities.
Och, how he gets to trembling then, my miller, how he tosses
about on his bed.
And him, as he was in his underdrawers he bolted for the
door and spilled not a word to anyone.
He went out the door, and I followed very quietlike.
It was practically night. Moon. Why, you could see every blade
of grass. And he's moving along, noticeable as can be, all in
white, like some kind of skeleton, and I go hopping along after
him behind the shed.
And some damn German, I remember, started to shoot. All
right. He's moving along.
He went just a little way and gave a yelp.
He gives a yelp and grabs quick at his chest.
I look, and blood is flowing across the white.
Nu, I am thinking, trouble a bullet.
He was turning around, I see, back; his hands dropped and he
Well, I just stare there was something awful about the way
he moved. He's not bending his legs, they're stiff, and the step
is terrible heavy.
I was running to him, I'm afraid myself, I grab and grab him
by the hand, but his hand is growing cold and I see there's no
breath in him deceased.
And with an invisible power he climbed to his home, the ages
closed for him, and as he knocks on the floor, so the floor rumbles
earth calls unto herself the deceased.
Then there was shrieking in the house, wailing in front of the
cdrpse, and with the step of death he approached the bed, and
here he was mowed down.
And such a panic went up in the hut, we sit and it's awful to
hear our own breathing.
And that's how the miller died because of me, and that's how
his pile vanished amen for eternity his capital.
Then Victoria Kazimirovna was much stricken with grief.
She is weeping and weeping, that whole week she is weeping
her tears will not dry.
And when I approach her, she drives me away and doesn't
want to see me.
Only a week passed, I remember, and I am there. No tears, I
see, and she even comes up to me lovingly.
What in the world, she says, did you do, Nazar Il'ich? You, she
says, are to blame for everything, now you get us out of it.
Fetch me, though it be from the sea's bottom, a little capital,
otherwise you are the number one criminal for me and I will go,
I know where, to the transport. Ensign Lapushkin asked me to
be his sweetheart, and he even promised me a nice gold watch
with a bracelet.
Oh, bitterly I shook my head, and tell me, where was I sup-
posed to dig up this capital, but she threw a little knitted shawl
around her shoulders and bowed to me nice and low.
I'm going, she says, he is expecting me, Ensign Lapushkin is
waiting for me. So please, farewell, Nazar Il'ich, Mr. Sinebriuk-
Stop, I say, stop, Victoria Kazimorovna. Give me some time,
I say, this has got to be thought through.
What is there, she says, for him to think about? Go fetch it,
though it be from the sea's bottom, only carry out my request.
And then an idea dawned on me.
In wartime, think I, anything goes. Maybe the Germans will
attack, and I could burn through a few pockets if it came to that.
And soon came just such a chance.
In our trenches we had a cannon . . . Och, God help me re-
member Hotchkiss is the title.
Hotchkiss naval cannon.
A thin little muzzle it had, and kind of silly to see a shell in it,
an insignificant shell at that. But anyhow, it didn't shoot too badly.
It would shoot and do its best to blow up as much as it could.
Naval Lieutenant Winch was commander over it. Not a bad guy,
the lieutenant's all right. He wouldn't beat you up, he'd just put
you in front of a firing squad.
And we were very fond of that little cannon and always set it
up in our own trench.
Here, let's say, is the machine gun, and here is a small clump
of pines and the cannon.
She annoyed Germany quite a bit, knocked off a hunk of the
Polish church along the cupola, because there was a German
She also struck among their machine guns.
And right off she never gave the Germans any rest.
That's how the chance came about.
The Germans at nighttime stole off with her most important
part the breechblock. And at the same time they carried off the
machine guns. r
And how this happened it's amazing to ponder.
It was quiet. I absolutely went off to Victoria Kazimirovna.
The guard was drowsing by the cannon, and the second guard,
imagine scum like that, went over to the platoon on duty. They
were playing cards there.
Well, O.K. He went.
Only he's playing cards, and he keeps winning, the son of a
bitch, and he doesn't take any interest to look what was happen-
And it happened: the Germans dusted off the breechblock from
Only, toward morning, the second guard went up to the cannon
and he sees: the first guard is lying there absolutely dead, and all-
Och, then there was a to-do!
Naval Lieutenant Winch leaps on me like a tiger, he stands
the whole platoon at attention, and he orders each man to hold a
card in his teeth, but to the second guard, three cards like a fan.
Toward evening, his excellency the general rides over, and he's
all stirred up.
He's all right, he's a good general.
As soon as he looked at the platoon, his anger left him. Thirty
men standing as one, holding cards in their teeth.
The general smiled.
Step out, he says, chosen eagles, fly on the Germans, destroy
the foreign enemy.
$So stepped out, as I remember, five men, and me with them.
The general, his excellency, is admiring us.
Fly eagles, he says, by night, cut the German wire, seek out
even just one German machine gun, and if it should come to pass
the cannon's breechblock.
And toward night we went.
I played along. I needed to.
In the first place I had my own little plan, and then I'm not
one of those who wants to live forever.
I, you know, was once chosen for luck. Yes.
In the year sixteen, as I remember, a kind of dark fellow came
around. People said he was a Romanian peasant. He came around
with birds. He had a cage across his chest. And in the cage was not
a parrot, a parrot is green, but some such one of them tropical
birds. So she, the scum, a regular scholar that bird, dipped her
beak in the cards and picked out each man's luck.
As for me, I remember, the planet Cancer predicted I'd live
And a lot more was predicted that I've forgotten, but just as it
was predicted, it will come out.
So then I remembered the prediction and just strolled right
We approached the German barbed wire.
Dark shadow. Still no moon.
We cut the loop very quietly, we let ourselves down into the
trenches, in among the Germans, we went maybe fifty steps
there's a machine gun.
We dropped the German sentry to the ground and strangled
him then and there.
It seemed very unpleasant to me, a bit awful in general, you
know, this nightmare.
We dismounted the machine gun, decided who should take the
stand, who the ammunition boxes, and on me, as I remember,
they palmed off, their mother should have it so, the heaviest part,
the body of the machine gun.
And this was so damn heavy, it was altogether dropping, not
at all light, and step by step they were disappearing from me, and
I'm dragging my tail after them, I'm in trouble.
I'd have to crawl up, then I look the communications passage
And suddenly from around the corner steps an awfully healthy-
looking German and his rifle's at the ready.
I threw the machine gun down at my feet and also slipped off
Only I have a feeling the German wants to shoot, his head is
on the stock.
Someone else might have got scared, someone else might very
well have got scared. But it's nothing to me. I stand, and I don't
If I just turn my back, or give the breech a flip, there, abso-
lutely, I'm finished.
So we stand face to cozy face. And in all, there's five steps be-
We look each other In the eye and wait, who will run away.
And all of a sudden, the German starts to shake, he makes like
to turn back.
So then I shot him.
And right away I remembered my little plan.
I crawled up to him, frisked through his pockets it's un-
pleasant. Well, never mind, I forced myself. I took out a pigskin
wallet, I took out a watch in a case (the Germans always carry
a watch in a case), I heaved the machine gun up on my shoulder,
and on I went.
I reached the wire no loophole.
Any chance of finding it in the dark?
I started to push my way through the barbed wire it was
Maybe an hour or more I was shoving along, my back was
broke, my arms were all torn.
Well anyway I just shoved through.
Then I rested peacefully, crawled into the grass, started to
bandage up my arms, they're bleeding so.
And I completely forgot, God damn me, I'm still on the Ger-
man side and it's getting light already.
I wanted to run. The Germans were raising a stink. It seems
they found there was a mess on their side, they opened fire on the
Russians, and if I was crawling along, they'd see me and kill me.
But this place here, I see, is wide open, and further on there
isn't even any grass. And there's three hundred steps to the huts.
Well, think I, Rear Company just stay where you are. Lucky
lor you, Nazar Il'ich, Mr. Sinebriukhov, the grass hides you.
All ri-i-i-ight. So I lie still.
But maybe the Germans were feeling terribly insulted, anyway
they are taking aim and shooting away at anything they see.
Around noon they leave off shooting. But I notice as soon as
anyone sticks his head out up on our Russian side, they take aim.
Well that means they are absolutely on their toes and I have
to stay put till dark.
I lie an hour . . . and I lie two. I interest myself in the wallet . . .
Not much money, but at least it's all foreign ... I am admiring
But the sun beat straight down on my head, and my spirit
drooped. And thirst.
Then I started to think about Victoria Kazimirovna. Only,
when I look up, I see there's a crow about to drop down on me.
I'm lying there alive. But maybe he thinks I'm carrion. And he's
I try to shoo him away quietly.
Sssssh, I say, beat it, get the hell out.
I am waving my hand, but maybe he doesn't believe me. He
sits himself right on me.
There's a scummy bird for you. Sits himself right on my chest.
No way to pull him off. My arms are torn, I can't bend them, and
he's at me hard with his beak and wings.
I swat at him, He shoves off and sits down again nearby. And
then he moves back toward me, and he's even hissing. The snake,
he smells the blood on my arms.
Well, think I, you've had it, Nazar IPich, Mr. Sinebriukhov.
A bullet never touched you, but here's this garbagey bird, God
forgive, ruins a man for no reason. Now the Germans would abso-
lutely catch on as to what was going on just outside the barbed
And what was going on? A crow was eating a man alive.
So we were at each other a long time like this. I'm getting
ready to really let him have one, only I've got to be careful not to
move so the Germans will see me, and, I tell you, I'm about ready
to cry. My arms are torn, my blood is flowing, and here he's still
Then I got to feeling so damn mad at him and he was just
coming at me when I spring on him.
Kysh, I say, you scabby rubbish!
I cried out and the Germans absolutely heard it right away.
I jumped up. I run, my rifle beats against my legs, and the
machine gun just lies there where I left it.
Then the Germans gave a yell and started shooting at me. But
I don't hit the dirt I just run.
And how I got to the first huts, I don't mind telling you, I don't
I just plain got there. I look, my shoulder's bleeding, I'm
Then behind the huts step by step I made my way back to my
own and just dropped down dead.
I came to myself in the regimental infirmary, as I remember,
in the transport. *
Well I just whisk through my pockets. The watch is there. But
the pigskin wallet? Just as if it had never been.
Now either I had left it at the place where the crow stopped
me from hiding it, or the medics had lifted it.
I wept most bitterly. I decided to drop every opportunity, and
just get better.
But then I find out. There lives here at Ensign Lapushkin's,
in the transport, the charming Eolack Victoria Kazimirovna.
Maybe a week went by. They decorated me with a George.
And in this manner I appear before the Ensign Lapushkin.
I go into the hut.
Greetings, I say, your highness. And greetings, please, charm-
ing Polack Victoria Kazimirovna.
Then I see they are both beginning to look a little embarrassed.
He stands up and hides her.
What, he says, do you want? I've been seeing too much of you
lately. You've been hanging around too much under the windows.
Beat it, he says, you son of the barnyard, so much for you.
But I stick my chest out and I answer proudly like this.
You, I say, may outrank me, but the business here is among
other things a civilian one, and I have a right to be discussing it,
just like anyone else. Let her, I say, the charming Polack herself,
make a choice between us.
How he starts yelling at me!
,> Damn you, he screams, you Tambov milksop! How dare you!
Take off that George, he says, and I'll really hit you one.
No, says I, your highness. You can't touch me. I'm a combat
And at the same time I stand waiting by the door for what
she, the charming Polack, will say.
Well she just keeps quiet, hiding behind Lapushkin's back.
I sighed bitterly. I spat on the floor with a glob of spit. And I
went my own way.
Just as I'd gone out the door, I hear some footsteps clipping
I look. Victoria Kazimirovna is running. The little knitted
shawl is fluttering from her shoulders.
She ran up to me, she dug into my arm with her scratchy claws,
but for awhile she just couldn't get a word out.
So maybe a moment went by. She kisses my hand with her
charming lips. And this is what she says.
I bow low to you, Nazar Il'ich, Mr. Sinebriukhov . . . Forgive
me all such, for God's sake. It's just that our fates are different.
I wanted to fall down right there. I wanted to tell her a thing
or two . . . Only I remembered then just how that crow had flown
over me ... Och, I pulled myself together.
No, says I, for you, charming Polack, there is no forgiveness in
A METROPOLITAN DEAL
In the village Usacha the other day they were holding the re-
election of a chairman.
City comrade Vedernikov, sent by the party cell to the village
under its patronage, stood on the freshly planed boards of a plat-
form and spoke to the meeting.
"The international situation, citizens, is clearer than clear. It
is not fitting to linger on it. Let us pass therefore to the current
moment of the day, to the selection of a chairman to replace
Kostylev, Ivan. This parasite cannot be trusted with the fullness
of state power, and therefore he is to be replaced . . ."
The chairman of the village poor, the peasant Bobrov, Mik-
hailo Vasil'evich, stood on the platform beside the city comrade.
While he was very much ill at ease because the city words were
but poorly accessible to the understanding of the peasants, he
nevertheless condescended, out of sheer good will, to explain the
obscurities of the speech.
"In a word," Bobrov said, "this parasite may a cow gore him
Kostylev, Ivan Maksimych, cannot be trusted and therefore he
is to be replaced . . ."
"And instead of the afore-mentioned Ivan Kostylev," continued
the city orator, "it is proposed to select a man, because we don't
care for speculators."
"And instead of the parasite," explained Bobrov, "damn his
soul, this bootlegger, even if he's a relative of mine on my wife's
side, it's proposed to remove and appoint."
"It is proposed," said the city comrade, "to set up a list of
Mikhailo Bobrov tore off his cap from an overflow of emotions
and made a broad gesture proclaiming the immediate establish-
ment of a list of candidates.
The group was silent.
"What about Bykin? or Eremei Ivanovich Sekin, eh?" someone
"All right," said the city comrade, "Bykin . . . Let's write it
"Now we'll write it down," explained Bobrov.
The crowd, which had been silent until that moment, began in
a frightening manner to set up a tumult and to cry out names, de-
manding that their candidates be immediaely raised to the office
"Bykin, Vasia! Eremei Ivanovich Sekin! Mikolaev! . . ."
The city comrade Vedernikov wrote these names down on his
"Brothers!" someone shrieked. "This is no election Sekin and
Mikolaev . . . We need to choose advanced-type comrades . . .
Really solid all the way . . . Someone who'll know his way around
in the city that's the kind we need . . . Who'd know everything
through and through . . ."
"Right!" they shrieked in the crowd. "Some advanced types we
need . . . That's the way it's done around here."
"A correct tendency," said the city comrade. "Mark the
Then the group hit a snag.
"How about Leshka Konovalov?" someone said timidly. "He's
the only one who's come from the city. He's a metropolitan
"Leshka!" they shrieked in the crowd. "Step out, Leshka. Tell
Leshka Konovalov pushed his way through the crowd, came
up on the platform, and, flattered by the general attention, bowed
city style, holding his hand over his heart.
"Speak, Leshka!" they shrieked in the crowd.
"Well, now," said Leshka, a bit confused. "Me you can choose.
Sekin or Mikolaev there is that a choice? That's country stuff,
bottom of the barrel. But I scratched around the city for about
two years. Me you can choose . . ."
"Speak, Leshka! Report to the group!" the crowd shrieked once
"I can speak," said Leshka. "Why not speak, when I know it
all. Unlike you all, I'm a cultured man. For two years I shook
loose from the grayness of country life. In the second place, my
tongue is very fluent I can make speeches. Nowadays that isn't
just a pound of steam."
"You're right, Leshka," they said in the crowd. "Without a
tongue a man's a sheep. Only the tongue makes men."
"That's just it," Leshka confirmed. "Only the tongue leads to
fortune. The tongue plus knowledge. Of course, one needs to
know the law code, statutes, decrees. All this I know. I spent
maybe two years . . . The way it was, I'm sitting in my cell, and
they come running up to you. Explain, Leshka, look here, what
does this note added on to the decree mean."
"What cell was that?" they asked in the crowd. "What kind of
cell are you jabbering about?"
"What cell?" said Leshka. "Why Cell Number 14. We were
doing time in the Kresty . . ."
"Nu!" the group was surprised. "What for, wise guy, were
you doing time in jail?"
Leshka was troubled and stared distractedly into the crowd.
"The merest trifle," Leshka said vaguely.
"Politics, or did you swipe something?"
Leshka Konovalov, grasping that he had botched his candidacy,
spoke once again with a fluent tongue:
"Well, no, there was nothing special against me. There was
just some discrepancy in the cashbox. Well, you know you can't
swim in water and not get a little wet."
Leshka waved his hand and hastily slipped away into the crowd.
The city comrade Vedernikov who had spoken of the new tend-
encies to select comrades who ? were acquainted with city life
recommended voting for Eremei Sekin. And concerning Leshka
he said: "Such likes we have to chase under the slogan weeds
out of the field, get out!"
Mikhailo Bobrov, chairman of the poor element, explained the
meaning of these words, and Eremei Sekin was unanimously
elected on the first ballot.
Leshka Konovalov abstained. This bottom-of-the-barrel coun-
try element was not to his taste.
CON F E SSION
In Passion Week, Grandma Fekla splurged she bought a
twenty-kopeck candle and placed it before the saint.
Fekla spent a long time eagerly fitting the candle closer to the
image. And when it seemed right, she stepped back a little distance
and, admiring the work of her hands, began to pray and to request
all kinds of advantages and favors for herself in return for the
twenty kopecks she had spent.
Fekla prayed for a long time, muttering all her petty little
requests through her nose to herself; then, after she knocked her
forehead on the dirty stone floor, took a deep breath, and groaned,
she went to confession.
Confessions were heard at the altar behind the screen.
Grandma Fekla waited in line behind some really old woman
indeed, and once again she began crossing herself and softly mut-
tering. One wasn't detained for long behind the screen.
Those taking confession went in there and, in a minute, sigh-
ing and quietly clearing their throats, emerged, bowing to the
"The priest is hurrying," Fekla thought. "And why should he
hurry? There's no fire here. He is making confession undignified."
Fekla entered behind the screen, bowed low to the priest, and
kissed his hand.
"What is your name?" the priest asked, blessing her.
"My name is Fekla."
"Well, tell us, Fekla," the priest said, "what are your sins? In
what have you been a sinner? Do you spread idle gossip? Do you
seldom seek refuge in God?"
"I am a sinner, father, of course," said Fekla bowing.
"May God forgive," said the priest covering Fekla with the con-
fession shawl. "Do you believe in God? You do not doubt?"
"I believe in God," said Fekla. "That son of mine has come
home, of course. He speaks out, he judges, in a word . . . But still,
"That is well, mother," said the priest. "Do not give yourself
lightly to temptation. Now what, tell me, does that son say? How
does he judge?"
"He judges," said Fekla. "These, he says, are trifles this faith
of theirs. No, he says, God does not exist, and you only search
the sky and clouds . . ."
"There is a God," the priest said sternly. "Do not give yourself
up to this . . . And what else, remember, did your son say?"
"Oh, he said different things."
"Different things!" the priest said angrily. "And from whence
comes all that surrounds us? From whence are the planets, the
stars and the moon, if there is no God? Your son never said any
such thing. From whence, pray tell, is all that surrounds us? Is it
just chemistry? Recall. Did he not speak of this? Pray tell, is it
all chemistry, eh?"
"He didn't say," Fekla said, blinking her eyes.
"And maybe it's chemistry," the priest said thoughtfully.
"Maybe that's the way it is, mother, and there's no God. Every-
thing's chemistry . . ."
Grandma Fekla threw a frightened glance at the priest. But he
put the confession shawl on her head and began to mutter the
words of a prayer.
"Well, go now, go," the priest said gloomily. "Don't keep the
Fekla once again threw a frightened glance at the priest and
went out sighing and modestly clearing her throat. Then she went
up to her own saint, looked at the candle, trimmed the burnt wick,
and left the church.
WHAT GOOD ARE RELATIVES?
For two days Timofei VasiTevich had been looking for his
nephew, Serega Vlasov. On the third day, just before leaving
town, he found him. He met him in a trolley car.
Timofei VasiTevich boarded the trolley, took out a coin, and
was about to give it to the conductor; only he looked who could
it be? The conductor's face seemed very familiar. Timofei
VasiTevich stared yes! That's who it was Serega Vlasov, his
very own self, working as a trolley conductor.
"Well!" exclaimed Timofei Vasil'evich. "Serega! Is it really
you, my fine friend?"
The conductor seemed embarrassed, checked his roll of tickets
without any apparent need to do so, and said: "Just a moment,
uncle ... let me give out the tickets."
"O.K.! Go right ahead," his uncle said happily. "I'll wait."
Timofei Vasil'evich smiled and began to explain to the passen-
gers: "He's a blood relative of mine, Serega Vlasov. My brother
Peter's son ... I haven't seen him for seven years . . ."
Timofei Vasil'evich looked with joy on his nephew and shouted
to him: "Serega, my fine friend, I've been looking for you two
days. All over town. And look where you are! A conductor . . .
And I went to your address. On Raznochin Street. Not here, they
answer. He went away, left this place. Where, says I, did he go,
answer me, says I. I'm his blood uncle. We don't know, says
they . . . And there you are a conductor, aren't you?"
"A conductor," the nephew answered cautiously.
The passengers began to stare with curiosity at the relative.
The uncle laughed happily and looked lovingly at his nephew,
but the nephew was obviously embarrassed and, feeling that he
was after all on duty, did not know what to say to his uncle or how
to behave in his presence.
"So," the uncle said again, "you're a conductor on the trolley
"A conductor . . ."
"Say, isn't that a coincidence! And I, Serega, my fine friend, I
was just looking into the trolley and what's that? The face on
that conductor looks very familiar. And it turned out to be you.
Ah, there's luck for you! Well, I'm so glad. I'm so pleased,
really . . ."
For a moment the conductor shifted from foot to foot, and
then suddenly he said: "You've got to pay, uncle. To get a ticket
. . . Are you going far?"
The uncle laughed happily and slapped him across the change
"I would have paid! I swear to God! If I'd gotten on another
car, or if I'd missed this one O.K. I would have paid. I would
have paid my good money. Ah, there's luck for you! . . . I'm
going to the railroad station, Serega, my fine friend."
"Two stops," said the conductor wearily, looking to the side.
"No, you don't mean it?" Timofei Vasil'evich seemed sur-
prised. "You don't mean it? You're kidding?"
"You must pay, uncle," the conductor said softly. "Two stops.
Because you can't travel for nothing and without a ticket."
Timofei Vasil'evich, offended, pressed his lips together and
looked sternly at his nephew.
"Is this the way you treat your blood uncle? You rob your
The conductor stared gloomily out of the window.
"That's piracy!" the uncle said angrily. "I haven't seen you, you
son of a bitch, for seven years, and what do you do? You ask
money for a trip. From your blood uncle? Don't you wave your
hands at me. You may be my blood relative, but I'm not scared
of your hands. Don't wave, you'll give the passengers a chill."
Timofei Vasil'evich turned the coin over in his hand and put it
back in his pocket.
"What do you think of the likes of him, brothers?" Timofei
Vasil'evich appealed to the public. "From his blood uncle he asks.
Two stops, he says . . .Eh?"
"You must pay," said the nephew, almost in tears. "Please don't
be angry, comrade uncle. Because this isn't my trolley. It's a state
trolley. It belongs to the people."
"To the people," said the uncle, "that's not my business. You
could show a little respect for your blood uncle. You could say,
'Uncle, put away your hard-earned ten kopecks. Travel free.'
Your trolley wouldn't fall apart on account of that. I was riding
in a train the other day . . . The conductor was no relation, but
still he said: Tlease, Timofei Vasil'evich,' says he, 'why bring up
such a thing . . . just sit . . .' And he took me along . . . And he's
no relation . . . Just an old village friend. And you do this to your
blood uncle . . . You'll get no money from me."
The conductor wiped his forehead with his hands and suddenly
rang the bell.
"Get off, comrade uncle," said the nephew officially.
Seeing the matter was taking a serious turn, Timofei Vasil'evich
wrung his hands, took out his ten-kopeck piece again, and then
again put it back.
"No," he said, "I can't! Pay you, you snot, I can't. Better let
me get off."
Timofei Vasil'evich arose solemnly and indignantly and made
his way to the exit. Then he turned.
"Driving out your uncle . . . Your blood uncle," Timofei
Vasil'evich said in a fury, "Why, you snot ... I can have you
shot for this."
Timofei Vasilevich threw a withering glance at his nephew and
got off the trolley.
Grigorii Ivanovich inhaled noisily, wiped his chin with his
sleeve, and began to tell the story: Brothers, I don't like women
who wear hats. If a woman's wearing a hat, or if she's got silk
stockings on her, or a little pug-dog in her arms, or if she's got a
gold tooth, then to me she's an aristocrat, and not a woman at
all but an empty space.
In my time, of course, I once courted an aristocrat like that. I
went strolling with h6r and took her to the theater. It was in the
theater, in fact, that it all came out. It was in the theater that she
exposed her ideology in its full measure.
I met her in the courtyard at home. At a house meeting. I look,
and there stands just such a big deal. Stockings on her, gold tooth.
"Where are you from, citizen?" I say. "What number?"
"I am," she says, "from number seven."
"Please," says I, "good luck to you."
And all at once I found I liked her terribly. I began to go see
her often. To Apartment Number Seven. As it happened, I'd go
in a kind of official capacity. Like this: "Anything wrong here,
citizen, in the way of a broken pipe or toilet? Everything work-
"Yes," she replies. "Everything's working."
And she wraps herself up in a woolen shawl and there's not a
whisper more. Only with her eyes she's devouring away. And the
tooth flashes in her mouth. I came to her for a month she got
used to it. She began to answer in more detail. Like, for example,
"the pipe's working, thank you, Grigorii Ivanovich."
To get on, we began to take strolls along the streets. We'd go
out on the street, and she'd ask me to take her by the arm. I was
embarrassed, but I'd take her arm and tag along like a fish out
of water. And what to say, I don't know, and in front of people
Well, and once she says to me: "Why," she says, "do you al-
ways take me out on the streets? My head's gotten all twisted.
You could," she says, "if you're a man and a gentleman, take me
to the theater, for example."
"Can do," says I.
And all at once on the following day the party cell distributed
tickets for the opera. One ticket I received myself, and the other
one I got from Vas'ka the locksmith, who gave his up to me.
I never looked at the tickets, but they were different. Mine was
in the orchestra, but Vas'ka's was in the balcony.
Anyway, we got there. We took our seats in the theater. She
took a seat on my ticket, and I on Vas'ka's. I was sitting in the
last balcony and couldn't see a horse-radish. But if I leaned way
out over the balcony rail I could see her. But not too well.
I was getting more and more bored, and went downstairs. I
look it's intermission. And she's coming out for intermission.
"Hello," says I.
"It's interesting," says I. "Is the pipe working here?"
"I don't know," she says.
And she goes to the buffet. I follow her. She walks along the
buffet and looks at the counter. And on the counter there's a plate.
On the plate some pastries.
And I'm such a goose, such an uncut bourgeois, I creep around
her and offer: "If you would like," says I, "to eat one of those
pastries, don't hesitate. I'll pay."
"Merc/," she says.
And suddenly she maneuvers herself around to the plate with a
vicious movement, grabs the one with whipped cream, and laps
The money I had on me was damn little. At most enough for
three pastries. She eats, and I go whisking nervously through my
pockets. I look in my hand. How much do I have? About a
pigeon's droppings' worth.
She ate the one with whipped cream and grabbed another. I
let out with a quack. And then I keep quiet. Such a bourgeois
kind of embarrassment took hold of me. Like this, a gentleman,
and no money on him.
I walk around her like a rooster, and she giggles waiting for
I say: "Isn't it time to go back to our seats? Maybe they rang."
But she says: "No."
And takes a third.
"On an empty stomach isn't that a lot? You might throw up."
And she: "No," she says, "I'm used to it."
And takes a fourth.
Then the blood runs to my head.
"Put it," says I, "back!"
And she got scared. She opened her mouth, and in her mouth
the tooth flashed.
It seemed to me as though someone had touched a whip to my
rear. It's all one, think I, there'll be no strolling with her now.
"Put it back," says I, "you damn bitch!"
She stepped back. And I say to the attendant: "How much for
the three pastries we ate?"
The attendant takes it all indifferently he takes his time.
"You owe me," says he, "for eating four pieces, so-and-so
"How," says I, "for four? When the fourth is still on the plate."
"No," says he, "though it's still on the plate, it was nibbled and
it's been smutched by a finger."
"How," says I, "nibbled, if you please. It's your cockeyed
But he still takes it indifferently he wrings his hands in front
of his mug.
Well, of course, people gathered around. Experts. Some say
a nibble was taken, others ncr.
And I emptied out my pockets something, of course, spilled
out on the floor and rolled away the crowd laughs. But to me
it's not funny. I am counting my change.
I counted the money enough for four pieces and a little over.
Dear mother, I'd picked a quarrel for nothing.
I paid. I turn to the lady: "Eat," says I. "It's paid for."
The lady doesn't move. She's embarrassed to eat it. And here
some old joker butted in.
"Give it here," says he. "I'll eat it."
And he ate it, the scum. With my money.
We took our seats in the theater. We watched the opera. Then
And at home she says to me in that bourgeois tone of hers:
"Enough swinery on your part. Those who don't have money
shouldn't go out with ladies."
And I say: "Money isn't happiness. Pardon the information."
So I left her.
I don't like aristocrats.
Our bathhouses are not so bad. You can wash yourself. Only
we have trouble in our bathhouses with the tickets. Last Saturday
I went to a bathhouse, and they gave me two tickets. One for
my linen, the other for my hat and coat.
But where is a naked man going to put tickets? To say it
straight no place. No pockets. Look around all stomach and
legs. The only trouble's with the tickets. Can't tie them to your
Well, I tied a ticket to each leg so as not to lose them both at
once. I went into the bath.
The tickets are flapping about on my legs now. Annoying to
walk like that. But you've got to walk. Because you've got to have
a bucket. Without a bucket, how can you wash? That's the only
I look for a bucket. I see one citizen washing himself with
three buckets. He is standing in one, washing his head in another,
and holding the third with his left hand so no one would take it
I pulled at the third bucket; among other things, I wanted to
take it for myself. But the citizen won't let go.
"What are you up to," says he, "stealing other people's
buckets?" As I pull, he says, "I'll give you a bucket between
the eyes, then you won't be so damn happy."
I say: "This isn't the tsarist regime," I say, "to go around
hitting people with buckets. Egotism," I say, "sheer egotism.
Other people," I say, "have to wash themselves too. You're
not in a theater," I say.
But he turned his back and starts washing himself again.
"I can't just stand around," think I, "waiting his pleasure. He's
likely to go on washing himself," think I, "for another three days."
I moved along.
After an hour I see some old joker gaping around, no hands
on his bucket. Looking for soap or just dreaming, I don't know.
I just lifted his bucket and made off with it.
So now there's a bucket, but no place to sit down. And to
wash standing what kind of washing is that? That's the only
All right. So I'm standing. I'm holding the bucket in my hand
and I'm washing myself.
But all around me everyone's scrubbing clothes like mad. One
is washing his trousers, another's rubbing his drawers, a third's
wringing something out. You no sooner get yourself all washed
up than you're dirty again. They're splattering me, the bastards.
And such a noise from all the scrubbing it takes all the joy
out of washing. You can't even hear where the soap squeaks.
That's the only trouble.
"To hell with them," I think. 'Til finish washing at home."
I go back to the locker room. I give them one ticket, they give
me my linen. I look. Everything's mine, but the trousers aren't
"Citizens," I say, "mine didn't have a hole here. Mine had a
hole over there."
But the attendant says: "We aren't here," he says, "just to watch
for your holes. You're not in a theater," he says.
All right. I put these pants on, and I'm about to go get my
coat. They won't give me my coat. They want the ticket. I'd for-
gotten the ticket on my leg. I had to undress. I took off my pants.
I look for the ticket. No ticket. There's the string tied around my
leg, but no ticket. The ticket had been washed away.
I give the attendant the string. He doesn't want it.
"You don't get anything for a string," he says. "Anybody can
cut off a bit of string," he says. "Wouldn't be enough coats to go
around. Wait," he says, "till everyone leaves. We'll give you what's
I say: "Look here, brother, suppose there's nothing left but
crud? This isn't a theater," I say. "I'll identify it for you. One
pocket," I say, "is torn, and there's no other. As for the buttons,"
I say, "the top one's there, the rest are not to be seen."
Anyhow, he gave it to me. But he wouldn't take the string.
I dressed, and went out on the street. Suddenly I remembered:
I forgot my soap.
I went back again. They won't let me in, in my coat.
"Undress," they say.
. I say, "Look, citizens. I can't undress for the third time. This
fen't a theater," I say. "At least give me what the soap costs."
Nothing doing all right. I went without the soap.
Of course, the reader who is accustomed to formalities might
be curious to know: what kind of a bathhouse was this? Where
was it located? What was the address?
What kind of a bathhouse? The usual kind. Where it costs ten
kopecks to get in.
Anis'ia traveled thirty versts to get to the country hospital.
She set out at dawn and at noon she paused before the white
"Is the surgeon receiving?" she asked a peasant sitting on the
"The surgeon?" the peasant asked with interest. "What, you
"Sick," Anis'ia answered.
"Me, too, my dear," the peasant said. "I ate too much grits . . .
I'm number seven."
Anis'ia tied her horse to the post and went into the hospital.
The medical orderly, Ivan Kuz'mich, was receiving the patients.
He was small, elderly, and terribly distinguished. Everyone in the
area knew him, praised him and called him, without reason, the
Anis'ia entered the room, approached him, bowed low, and
sat down on the edge of a chair.
"Are you sick?" Ivan Kuz'mich asked.
"I'm sick," said Anis'ia. "That is, I'm sick through and through.
Every bone pains and throbs. My heart is eating itself alive.
"What might it be from?" the medical orderly asked indif-
ferently. "And since when?"
"Since fall, Ivan Kuz'mich. Since this last fall. In the fall I got
sick. Since, you know, my husband Dimitrii Naumych arrived
from the city, I've been sick. For example. I'm standing by the
table rolling some mill cakes in flour. Dimitrii Naumych used to
love these particular mill cakes. And where is he now, I think
to myself, Dimitrii Naumych? He's a soviet deputy in the city . . ."
"Look, my dear woman," the medical orderly said, "don't
overdo it. What are you sick from?"
"Well, I was just telling you," said Anis'ia, "I'm standing by
the table rolling mill cakes. Suddenly Aunt Agaf ia runs up like a
ram and starts waving her hand. 'Go,' she shrieks, 'go quick,
Anis'iushka. Your man just arrived from the city, and it looks
like he's coming up the street with bag and stick.' My heart
stopped. My knees knocked together. I'm standing there like a
fool kneading the cakes . . . Then I threw down the cakes and
ran into the yard. And in the yard the sun is shimmering. The air
is light. And on my left near the shed a brown calf is standing
scaring off flies with his tail. I looked at the calf and the tears
began to flow. Here, I think, Dimitrii Naumych will be so pleased
with this particular brown calf."
"Please," the medical orderly said morosely, "stick to the
"But my dear Ivan Kuz'mich, I'm just telling you. Please don't
get mad. I'm sticking to the point ... I ran out the gate. I see, you
know how it is, the church on the left, a goat's walking along, a
rooster is scratching away with his foot, and on the right, I see,
right on up the middle there comes Dimitrii Naumych.
"I looked at him. My heart skipped a beat, I could feel a hiccup
rising. Ah, I think, Holy Mother of God! Ah, I think, I feel a little
faint! And he, he's walking along with a short, serious step. His
beard is fluttering in the air. And he's wearing city clothes. And
"As soon as I saw the fancy shoes it was as though something
had been torn out of me. I think, oy, where do I come in, un-
cultured as I am, what kind of a wife do I make for him, a first-rate
man and a soviet deputy.
"I stood like a fool at the post and my feet wouldn't move.
I feel the post up and down with my fingers and I stand there.
"And he himself, Dimitrii Naumych, the soviet deputy, comes
up to me slowly and says hello.
"He says, 'Hello, Anis'ia Vasil'evna. How many years has it
been,' he says, 'how many winters, that we have not seen each
other? . . .'
"I should have, fool that I am, taken the bag from Dimitrii
Naumych, but I just look at his fancy shoes and don't move.
"I think, oy, it was a peasant who left me. Now he's wearing
fancy shoes. He's been having talks with city folks, maybe even
with Comsomol girls.
"And Dimitrii Naumych answers in a low voice: 'Och,' he says,
'look what you're like! Dark,' he says, 'ignorant, Anis'ia
Vasil'evna. What,' he says, 'am I going to talk about with you?
I,' he says, *am an educated man and a soviet deputy. I,' he says,
'know maybe four rules of arithmetic. I know fractions,' he says.
'But you,' he says, look what you're like! Probably,' he says, *you
can't even sign your name on paper? Another man might very well
throw you over, for your darkness and ignorance.'
"And I am standing at the post and getting words all mixed
up: look here, Dimitrii Naumych, throw me over if you like,
certainly, just as you like.
"But he takes me by the hand and answers: 'I was only joking,
Anis'ia Vasil'evna. Stop thinking like that. I,' he says, 'am like
this. Forget it . . .'
"Again my heart skipped a beat, I could feel a hiccup rising.
" 'Dimitrii Naumych,' I say, 'be at rest. I, too, certainly, can
learn fractions and the four rules. Also to sign my name on paper.
I,' I say, 'will not shajtne you, an educated man . . .' "
The medical orderly, Ivan Kuz'mich stood up from his chair
and walked about the room.
"Well, well," he said, "that's enough, you're a long way off ...
What are you sick from?"
"What am I sick from? Why nothing, now, Ivan Kuz'mich. It
seems to have gotten better now. I can't complain about my
health. And Dimitrii Naumych himself said: 'I was just joking,'
he said. That means he said all that just as a joke."
"Why, yes, he was joking,"" said the medical orderly. "Of
course he was joking . . . Can I give you some pills?"
"I don't need any," said Anis'ia. "Thank you, Ivan Kuz'mich
for your advice. I feel very much better now. Many, many thanks.
And Anis'ia, after leaving a bag of grain on the table, went to
the door. Then she turned.
"Fractions, Ivan Kuz'mich . . . Where can I find out about
these fractions? Should I go to the schoolteacher, or what?"
"To the schoolteacher," the medical orderly said, sighing. "Of
course, to the schoolteacher. It isn't a medical matter."
Anis'ia bowed low and went out into the street.
Nowadays, brothers, what is the most fashionable word there
Nowadays, the most fashionable word that can be is, of course,
I won't argue that it isn't a matter of immense importance to
light up Soviet Russia with electricity. Nevertheless, even this
matter has its shady side. I am not saying, comrades, that it costs
a lot. It costs nothing more expensive than money. That's not
what I'm talking about.
This is what I mean.
I lived, comrades, in a very large house. The whole house was
using kerosene. Some had kerosene lamps with, some without
a glass, and some had nothing just a priest's candle flickering
away. Real hardship!
And then they started installing electric lights. Soon after the
The house delegate installed them first. Well, he installed and
installed. He's a quiet man and doesn't let his tongue give him
away. But still he walks a bit strangely, and he's always thought-
fully blowing his nose.
Nevertheless, he doesn't let his tongue give him away.
And then our dear little landlady, Elizaveta Ignat'evna
Prokhorov, declares to us that she too wants to put in electric
lights in our half-dark apartment.
"Everybody," she says, "is installing them. Even the delegate,"
she says, "has installed them. Why should we be more backward
than other people? All the more so," she says, "since it's
economical. Cheaper than kerosene."
You don't say! We too began to install.
We installed them, turned them on my fathers! Muck and
filth all around.
The way it was before, you'd go to work in the morning, come
home in the evening, drink a bit of tea, and go to bed. And
nothing of this kind was visible as long as you used kerosene.
But now when we turned on the lights, we see, here someone's
old bedroom slipper lying around, there the wallpaper torn in
shreds and hanging down, there a bedbug running away at a
trot, trying to save himself from the light, here a rag of who-
knows-what, there a gob of spit, here a cigar butt, there a flea
Holy fathers! You wanted to cry for help. Sad to look on
such a spectacle.
Take the couch that stood in our room, for example. I used
to think, it's all right, it's a couch. It's a good couch. I often
sat on it evenings. And now I was burning electricity holy
fathers! What a couch! Everything's sticking out, hanging down,
spilling out from inside. I can't sit down on such a couch my
soul cries out.
So, I think, I don't live very well, do I? Better get out of the
house. I begin to develop a negative attitude. My work falls
from my hands.
I see the landlady, Elizaveta Ignat'evna, is also going around
mournfully, muttering to herself, fussing around in the kitchen.
"What," I ask, "is bothering you, landlady?"
She waves her hand.
"My dear man," she says, "I * never thought I was living so
I looked at her fixings and it really wasn't what you'd call
luxurious: in fact, her furniture was painful. And all around, dis-
order, strewings, litter, rubbish. And all this flooded with bright
light and staring you in the eye.
I began coming home kind of depressed.
I come in, I turn on the light, stare at the bulb, and hop into
After giving it a good deal of thought, I got my pay. I bought
some whitewash and started to work. I shook out the bed, killed
off the bedbugs, painted over the woodwork, banged the couch
back together, decorated, decontaminated my spirit sings and
In general, everything was going well, very well indeed.
But our landlady, Elizaveta Ignat'evna, took another course.
She cut the installation wires in her room.
"My dear man," she says, "I don't want to live in the light.
I 4on't want," she says, "my modest circumstances to be lit up
for the bedbugs to laugh at."
I begged and argued with her no good. She held her own.
"I don't want," she says, "to live with that light. I have no
money to make repairs."
I tell her: "Why, I'll do the repairs for you myself for next to
She doesn't want that.
"With those bright lights of yours," she says, "I have to keep
busy from morning to night with cleaning and washing. I'll man-
age," she says, "without the light, as I managed before."
The delegate also tried to convince her. And even quarreled
with her. He called her an outmoded petit bourgeois. It didn't
work. She refused.
Well, let her have it the way she wants. Personally, I live
in the electric light and I am quite satisfied with it.
The way I look at it, the light scratches away all our litter and
removes the rubbish.
Of course, losing an overshoe in a trolley car is not difficult.
Especially if there's pushing from the side, and at the same time
some bruiser steps on your heel from behind there you are, with-
out an overshoe.
Losing an overshoe is the simplest thing in the world.
My overshoe got Ipst in a hurry. You might say I didn't even
get a chance to catch my breath.
I boarded the trolley both overshoes, as I now recall, were
where they should be.
But when I left the trolley I look: one overshoe's there, not
the other. My shoes, there. And my socks, I see, are there. And
my underwear's where it should be. But no overshoe. One over-
shoe is missing.
And, of course, you can't run after a trolley car.
I took off the overshoe that remained, wrapped it in a news-
paper, and went along. After work, I think, I'll do a little in-
vestigating. To keep from losing my property. Somewhere I'll dig
After work I went to look. But first I took counsel with a friend
of mine who was a motorman.
He straightaway gave me some hope.
"You say you lost it in the trolley. That was lucky," he says.
"In another public place, I couldn't guarantee anything. But to
lose something in a trolley that's a sacred matter. Now there
is a little office we have called Lost and Found. Go there and get
it. It's a sacred matter!"
"Well," says I, "thanks." A load had been lifted from my
shoulders. You see, that overshoe was practically new. This was
only the third season I'd been wearing it.
The following day, I go to the room.
"Is it possible, brothers," I say, "to get my overshoe back. I
Ipst it in the trolley."
i, "Possible," they say. "What kind of an overshoe?"
"Oh," I say, "the ordinary kind. Size number twelve."
"We have," they say, "twelve thousand number twelves,
Describe its features."
"The features," I say, "are just the usual ones. The back, of
course, is a bit torn. There's no lining on the inside. The lining
"We have," they say, "a little over a thousand overshoes like
that. Aren't there any special marks?"
"Special marks," I say, "yes, there are. The toe looks as though
it were cut clean off, but it's still hanging on. And the heel," I say,
"is almost gone. The heel's worn out. But the sides," I say, "there's
still nothing wrong with the sides."
"Be seated," they say, "right here. Now we'll go look."
And right away they bring out my overshoe.
Naturally, I was beside myself with joy. Really touched.
Here, I think, there's an outfit marvelously at work. And, I
think, how many intelligent, responsible people have gone to so
much bother about just one overshoe.
I say to them: "Thanks," I say, "you're friends for life. Give it
right here. Now it's found. I thank you."
"No," they say, "respected comrade, we cannot give it to you.
We," they say, "don't know: maybe it wasn't you who lost it."
"Of course it was me," I say. "I can give you my word of
They say: "We believe you and fully sympathize, and it's quite
probable it really was you who lost this overshoe. But we cannot
give it up. Bring us some certification that you really did lose
this overshoe. Let your house manager verify that fact, and then
without any superfluous red tape we shall give back to you that
which you legitimately lost."
"Brothers," I say, "sacred comrades, they just don't know about
this fact at home. Maybe they wouldn't give me such a paper."
"They'll give," they say, "it's their business to give. What else
are they for at your place?"
I cast one more glance at the overshoe and left.
The following day I approached the president of our house.
"Give me," I say, "a paper. My overshoe's going to pot."
"Did you really lose it?" he says. "Or are you just twisting
things? Maybe you just want to lay hold of some extra consumers'
"God almighty!" I say. "I lost it."
He says: "Of course, I can't just go on your word. Now if you'd
bring me some verification from the trolley park that you lost an
overshoe then I'd give you a paper. Otherwise I can't."
I say: "But they'll just send me to you."
He says: "Well, then, write me a declaration."
I say: "What should I write?"
He says: "Write the following: *On this day an overshoe was
lost . . .' And so on. You see, I'll add a note that you've lived here
all along, until the matter's cleared up."
I wrote the declaration. The following day I received a formal
With this verification I went to the Lost and Found. And there,
just imagine, without any trouble and without any red tape they
gave me back my overshoe.
It was only when t put on my overshoe that I began to feel
thoroughly moved. "Here," I think, "real people are at work!
Why, would they ever have spent so much time on my overshoe
anywhere else? Why, they would have just tossed it out of the
trolley. But here a whole week hasn't made any difference
they gave it back."
The only trouble is that during this week while all the fuss
was going on, I lost my first overshoe. All that time I was carrying
it around in a package under my arm, and I don't remember
where I left it. The main point is that it wasn't in a trolley. That's
the awful part, that it wasn't in a trolley. Well, where to look
For all that, I still have the other overshoe. I've put it on my
bureau. If things ever get gloomy again, why, I'll just look at the
overshoe and they'll seem brighter. There, I'll think, an office
is marvelously at work.
I will keep this overshoe for remembrance. Let posterity ad-
THE ECONOMY CAMPAIGN
How the economy campaign is making out in other cities,
comrades, I don't know.
But here in the city of Borisov, this campaign has turned out
In the space of one short winter, in just one of our institutions,
fifty feet of pine firewood was economized.
Is that bad?!
Ten years of such economy that's five hundred feet right
there. And in a hundred years you could easily economize three
cords. In a thousand years you could just open up shop with
And what were the people thinking about before this? Why
wasn't such a profitable campaign introduced earlier? Why, it's a
Now, we started this particular campaign last fall.
Our manager is just like one of the boys. He consults with
us about everything and talks to us as he would to his relatives.
He even shoots cigarettes at us.
So then this manager comes up to us and announces: "Well,
there you are boys, it's begun . . . Pull yourselves together.
Economize on something over there . . ."
But how and on what to economize is not known. He hadn't
been told, and couldn't think of anything right off, so he turned
We began to talk it over, on what to economize. Maybe don't
pay that gray devil, the bookkeeper, or something like that.
The manager says: "If you don't pay the bookkeeper, boys,
that gray devil will wind up kicking up a fuss in the trade union.
That won't do. We need to think of something else."
Here, thank you, our cleaning maid Niusha brings the woman
problem to our attention.
"Since that's the way things are," she says, "then," she says, "it's
possible, for example, not to heat the toilet. Why waste fuel for
nothing there? It isn't a living room!"
'True," we say, "let the toilet stay cold. We would save maybe
fifty feet. And if it gets a little chilly, that's not so bad. Maybe
a nip of frost would keep the public from holding back. It might
even lead to increased productivity."
So that's what we did. We stopped heating the toilet. We started
Actually, we economized fifty feet. We were just starting to
economize more when spring struck.
That was just too bad!
And if it hadn't been, we were thinking, for that damn spring,
we might still have economized half a cubit.
Spring pulled a fast one on us. Even so, fifty feet, thank you,
that's not just mud pies.
And if some kind of pipe there seems to have snapped from
frost, this could be explained by the fact that this pipe had been
installed back in the tsarist regime. In general, it is necessary to
pull such pipes out by the roots.
Well, we managed very well without the pipe till fall. And
in the fall some cheapish kind of pipe might have been in-
stalled. It isn't a living room.
True, our friend the plumber says: "You see," he says, "the
very cheapest pipe is going to cast you more than what you saved
That, if he's not lying, is the rub.
No, it seems this economy campaign needs to be carefully
thought over. Otherwise, it turns itself away.
This is a true story. It happened in Astrakhan. An amateur
actor told me about it.
Here it is as he told it.
Now you're asking me, citizens, if I was an actor? Well, I was.
I played in the theater. I used to fiddle around with this art. But
it was simply nonsense. There is nothing outstanding in it.
Certainly, if you think about it a little more deeply, there is
much that is good in this art.
You go out on the stage, let's say, and the audience is watching.
And in the audience there are friends, your wife's relatives,
acquaintances from your house. You look they are signaling
down there in the orchestra as much as to say, "Buck up, Vasia,
don't be shy." And you, you see, signal back as much as to say,
"Stop worrying, citizens. We're all right. We're with it."
But if you think about it a little more deeply, there is nothing
at all good in this profession. It just causes a lot of bad blood.
So once we put on the play, Who Is To Blame? Prerevolu-
tionary. It's a very powerful play. In this play, in one act, bandits
rob a merchant right in front of the audience. A very natural
scene. The merchant, you see, is screaming and kicking out with
his feet. But they rob him. A frightening play.
So we were putting on this play.
But just before the performance one of the cast who played the
part of the merchant got drunk. And he was in such a state, the
bum, we see he won't be able to play the part. And as he goes out
on stage, he gives the footlights a kick with his foot, on purpose.
The director, Ivan Palych, says to me: "It won't do," he says,
"to let him out in the second act. The son of a bitch, he'll smash
all the footlights. Maybe," he says, "you could take his place? The
audience is dumb they won't catch on."
I say: "Citizens, I can't," I say, "go out on the stage. Don't
ask. I just ate," I say, "two melons. No good will come of it."
But he says: "Help me out, brother. Just for one scene, Maybe
this artiste here will sober up after that. Don't," he says, "tear
down the work of cultural enlightenment."
In any case, they persuaded me. I went out on the stage.
And I went out while the play was going on, just as I am, in
my own jacket and pants. All I did was stick on a false beard.
And I went out. The audience may have been dumb, but they
recognized me right away.
"Ah," they say, "Vasia's come out! Don't be shy," they say,
"buck up . . ."
I say: "This is no time to be shy, citizens. Right now," I say,
"is a critical moment. The artiste," I say, "has really tied one on,
and he can't come out on the stage. He's blotto."
We started the scene.
In this scene I play the merchant. I scream, you see, and kick
out at the bandits with my feet. And it seems to me as if one of
these amateurs is really going through my pockets.
I huddled into my jacket. And I sidled off from the artistes.
I try to keep them off. I even hit them in the mug. God
"Keep away," I say, "you swine, I'm asking you like a gentle-
But they creep up and creep up all around me, just as they're
supposed to do in the play. They removed my wallet (eighteen
chervontsi notes) and they are reaching for my watch.
I cry out in a voice not my own: "Help, citizens, they're
robbing me for real."
And this produces a full dramatic effect.
The dumb audience goes wild and claps and cries out:
"Attaboy, Vasia, attaboy. Let 'em have it, old boy. Hit the devils
over the head!"
I cry out: "It won't help, brothers!"
And I lash out, right across their snouts.
I see one amateur is bleeding, but the others, the bastards, just
got mad and pressed me closer.
"Brothers," I cry out, "what is all this? Why bring on all this
Then the director speaks up from behind the scenes.
"Good man, Vasia," he says. "You're playing that part beauti-
fully. Keep it up."
So I see that crying out won't help. Because no matter what I
cried out, it would fit into the play.
So I got on my knees.
'"Brothers," I say, "Director," I say, "Ivan Palych. I've had it!
Drop the curtain. They're filching my last penny," I say, "for
Then a number of theatrical specialists see that the words are
not in the play, and they come out from behind the scenes. The
prompter, too, thank you, climbs out of his box.
"Citizens," says he, "looks as if they really did pinch the
They dropped the curtain. They brought me some water in a
ladle. We drank.
"Brothers," I say, "Director," I say, "Ivan Palych. What's it
all about?" I say. "In the course of this here drama," I say,
"someone lifted my wallet . . ."
Well, they conducted a search among the amateurs. But they
didn't find the money. But someone found the empty wallet
backstage behind the scenery.
The money vanished. As though it had been burned.
Art, you say? I know! I was an actor once myself!
RACHIS [ PARIS]
The other day they dismissed from service the old postal
specialist, Comrade Krylyshkin.
For thirty years this man received foreign telegrams and noted
them down in a special book. For thirty years this man served
according to his powers and capacities. So there you are! His
enemies conspired against him, removed him from his accustomed
place, and shook him from the service, because he didn't know
It's perfectly true, of course, that Comrade Krylyshkin didn't
know these foreign languages. As far as languages are con-
cerned, you know the saying, "he couldn't get them through his
teeth." Be that as it may, the postal service and the foreigners did
not suffer the least little drop because of this fact.
It happens that a certain telegram arrives with a foreign head-
ing; without losing his grip in- the least, Comrade Krylyshkin
goes over to a certain desk, to a certain girl there, to a certain
"Vera Ivanovna," he says, "what is this anyway? I've gone,"
he says, "quite weak in the eyes. Be so kind," he says, "as to
tell me what this jumble is."
Well, so she tells him: from London, for example.
He takes it and writes it down.
Or he brings the telegram to a certain intellectual-type worker.
"Well," says he, "handwriting has gone to pot nowadays.
Chickens," he says, "can write better with their feet. So try and
guess what's written down here. I bet you can't guess."
Well, they'd tell him: "from a certain place called Munich."
"Right," he'd say, "and I thought only specialists could figure
Or another time, when there was a rush, Comrade Krylyshkin
would turn directly to the public: "Pssst . . . young man, come
over here to the window, take a look at this what's this scratch-
ing on here? There's a sharp argument going on among us
employees. Some say one thing, others something else."
For thirty years that hero of labor, Comrade Krylyshkin, sat
at his post, and there you are, they fired him.
And it was a petty reason for which Peter Antonovich
Krylyshkin flunked out. You could say it was an unlucky accident.
He wrote down just a little bit inaccurately the name of a city
from which a telegram had arrived. This telegram arrived from
the city of Paris. And on it was written in French: "Paris." Peter
Antonovich, from the purity of his heart, simply interpreted it in
Russian script from the city Rachis.
Afterwards, Peter Antonovich said: "I was licked, my dear
fellow. The thing is, that name struck me as Russian through and
through Rachis. And that's how the old man got into trouble."
Nevertheless, they took Peter Antonovich Krylyshkin and they
And I feel very sorry for him! Well, where are you going to
get an old-time specialist in foreign languages nowadays? Should
have let him stay on!
Not long ago, citizens, they were hauling a load of bricks along
the street. God almighty!
My heart, you know, fluttered with joy. Because, citizens, we
are building. They're not hauling these bricks just for nothing. It
means a little house is being built somewhere. It's been started
spit twice and keep the evil eye off!
Maybe in twenty ^ears, maybe even less, each citizen will prob-
ably have a whole room to himself. And if the population doesn't
make the mistake of increasing too rapidly, and if they let every-
one have abortions, maybe even two rooms. And maybe even
three per person. With bath.
That's how we're going to be living then, citizens! In one
room, let's say, sleep, in another, entertain guests, in the third,
something still different . . . Isn't that something! There'll be
things to do in a free life like that!
Well, for the time being, it's a bit difficult on account of the
space ration, which is limited in view of the critical situation.
I was living in Moscow, brothers. I just came back from there.
I experienced this crisis at firsthand.
I arrived, you know, in Moscow. I'm walking along the streets
with my things. That is, nowhere in particular. It isn't as though
I had a place to stay a place to put my things.
For two weeks, you know, I wandered around the streets with
my things I grew a beard and gradually lost my things. Well,
so, you know, it's easier walking without my things. I'm looking
for a place to stay.
Finally, there's a house where one guy on the staircase lets me
"For thirty rubles," he says, "I can set you up in the bathroom.
A luxurious little apartment," he says . . . "Three toilets . . .
Bath . . . In the bathroom," he says, "you can live all right. Even
though," he says, "there's no window. There is a door. And water
right at your fingertips. If you want," he says, "you can fill the
feathtub full of water and dive under, even for the whole day."
I say: "Dear comrade, I am not a fish. I," I say, "don't need
to dive. I'd just as soon," I say, "live on dry land. Take off a
little," I say, "for the dampness."
He says: "I can't, comrade. I'd like to, but I can't. It doesn't
depend entirely on me. It's a communal apartment. And our price
on the bathroom has been very strictly set."
"Well," I say, "what can I do? O.K. Grab my thirty," I say,
"and let me in right away. Three weeks," I say, "I'm pounding
the pavements. I'm afraid," I say, "I might get tired."
Well, O.K. They let me in. I began to live.
But the bathroom really was luxurious. Everywhere, no matter
which way you move there's a marble bathtub, the water heater,
and faucets. But there isn't much place to sit. Unless you sit on
the side, and then if you slip, you fall straight down into the
Then I built myself a plank of boards, and I'm living.
Within a month, among other things, I got married.
My wife, you know, was young and good-natured. She didn't
have a room.
I thought that on account of this bathroom she'd refuse me,
and I did not foresee any family happiness and comfort, but she
didn't refuse at all. She only frowned a little, and she answers:
"What of it," she says, "lots of nice people live in a bathroom.
And if worse comes to worse," she says, "we can divide it off.
In one place," she says, "we might make a boudoir, for example;
and in another a dining room . . ."
"You can screen it off, citizen. But the tenants," I say, "the
devils, won't let you. Even now they're saying: No remodeling."
Well, O.K. We take things as they are.
In less than a year a little boy is born to us.
We called him Volod'ka, and we go on living. We bathe him
right here in the bathtub and we live.
And, you know, it's even going pretty well. The boy, that is,
is getting bathed daily and he doesn't even catch cold.
There's only one inconvenience in the evenings the com-
munal tenants pour into the bathroom to wash themselves.
At this time my whole family is pushed out into the corridor.
I even asked the tenants: "Citizens," I say, "bathe yourselves
on Saturdays. You just can't," I say, "take a bath every day.
When," I say, "are we supposed to live? Enter into our position."
But there are thirty-two of them, the bastards. And they're
all cursing. And in case I do anything, they threaten to smash me
in the face.
So what is there to do you can't do anything. We take things
as they are.
After some time, my wife's mother from the province visits us
in the bathroom. She settles down behind the water heater.
"I," she says, "have dreamt a long time of rocking my grand-
son. You," she says, "can't refuse me this pleasure."
"I'm not refusing you. Go ahead," I say, "rock. To heck with
you. You can," I say, "fill up the bathtub and go diving with
But I say to my wife: "Maybe, citizen, you have more relatives
who are planning to visit us; if so, you better speak up right now,
don't torment me."
She says: "Only a kid brother for the Christmas holidays . . ."
Since I hadn't expected any brother, I left Moscow. I am send-
ing my family money by mail.
KITTEN AND PEOPLE
The stove I have works very badly. Sitting around it, my whole
family is always stifling from the fumes. And that housing co-
operative of devils refuses to make any repairs. They're economiz-
ing. On current expenses.
Recently they had a look at this stove of mine. They looked
at the flues. They stuck their heads in inside.
"Nothing wrong," they say. "One can live."
"Comrades," I say, "it's downright shameful to utter words
like that: one can live. We keep stifling from the fumes around
your stove. Recently, even our kitten stifled from the fumes.
Recently she even got sick at the bucket. But you are saying
one can live."
The housing co-operative of devils says: "In that case," they
say, "we'll set up an experiment now and have a look whether
your stove is really stifling. If we stifle now after turning it up
your luck we'll repair it. If we don't stifle we'll excuse our-
selves for the heating."
We warmed up the stove. We deposited ourselves around it.
We sit. We sniff.
Here, near the damper, the chairman was sitting; here, Secretary
Griboedov; and here on my bed, the treasurer.
Naturally, the fumes soon began to spread through the room.
The chairman took a sniff, and he says: "Not a thing. Don't
smell a thing. Warm air's coming out, nothing else."
The treasurer, that plague, says: "The air's quite excellent.
And one can sniff it. From this, one doesn't get dizzy. In my
apartment," he says, "the air stinks much worse, and yet I," he
says, "don't go around whimpering for nothing. But here the air
is quite smooth."
"Pardon me," I say, "what do you mean smooth? Just look
how the gas is streaming out."
The chairman says: "Call the kitten. If the kitten will sit still,
that means there's not a horse-radish wrong. An animal is always
disinterested in a case like this. It's not a man. You can trust it."
The kitten comes. Sits herself down on the bed. Sits calmly.
And why does she sit calmly? It's a clear case she's already
gotten a bit used to it.
"Not a thing," says the chairman, "we're sorry."
Suddenly, the treasurer rocks on the bed and says: "You know,
I've got to hurry. I've got business to attend to."
And he goes over to the window and breathes through the
And he's turning green and actually swaying on his feet.
The chairman says: "We'll be going now."
I drew him away from the window.
"It's impossible," I say, "to get expert judgment that way."
He says: "As you like. I can leave the window. Your air is
quite healthy to me. Natural air, good for the health. I cannot
give you any repairs. The stove is normal."
But half an hour later, when this very chairman was lying
on a stretcher and the stretcher was being carried to the first-aid
ambulance, I spoke with him again.
I say: "Well, what now?"
"Why no," he says, "there will be no repairs. One can live."
And so they did not repair it.
Well, what's to be done? I'ih getting used to it. A man isn't a
flea he can get used to anything.
Brothers, I would never argue idly as to who's the most im-
portant man in the theater the actor, the director, or maybe the
stage carpenter. The facts will out. Facts always speak for
This affair took place in Saratov or in Simbirsk; in a word,
someplace not far from Turkestan. In the municipal theater.
They played opera in this municipal theater. Besides the
outstanding roles of the artists, there was in this theater, among
others, the electrician Ivan Kuzmich Miakishev.
When they took a picture of the whole theater in a group in
the year twenty-three, they shoved this electrician somewhere to
the side: technical personnel, they say. And in the center, on a
chair with a back, they sat the tenor.
The electrician, Ivan Kuzmich Miakishev, said nothing about
this boorishness, but in his heart he nourished a certain grievance.
The more so since on the picture they had snapped him some-
what murkily, out of focus.
And here's what happened. This evening, for opening, they're
playing Ruslan and Lyudmila. Music by Glinka. Conductor
Maestro Katzman. And at a quarter to eight two girls he knows
come up to this electrician. Whether he had invited them be-
forehand or whether they just showed up is not known. So these
two girl acquaintances show up, flirt intensely, and just ask
to be seated in the main orchestra to see the show.
The electrician says: "Well, for God's sake, mesdames. I'll go
get you a couple tickets right now. Sit down here in the box."
And he himself goes, of course, to the manager.
The manager says: "Today's a holiday. There's a whole slew
of people. Every seat's taken. I can't."
The electrician says: "Ah, so," he says. "Well then, I refuse to
play. I refuse, in a word, to light your production. Play without
me. Then we'll see which of us is more important, who you can
shove off to the side and who you set in the center."
And he went back to his box. He turned off the light in the
whole theater right up to the gallery, locked up the box with all
his keys and he just sits and flirts with his girlfriends.
Now, of course, everything is in a regular muddle. The man-
ager's running around. The public is yelling. The man in the
box office is whimpering, he's afraid somebody might run off
with the money in the dark. But that beggar, the first opera tenor,
accustomed to occupy the center, goes up to the director and says
in his tenor voice: "I refuse to sing tenor in the dark. If it's
dark/' he says, "I leave. I," he says, "prize my voice more than
that. Let the electrician sing himself."
The electrician says: "O.K., so he doesn't sing. Spit on him.
Once he gets out in the center, he thinks all he has to do is start
singing with one hand, another light goes on. He's a tenor, he
thinks, so there are always lights for him. Now there are no more
Here, of course, the electrician tangled with the tenor.
Suddenly the manager shows up and says: "Where are those
two damn girls? Everything's gone to pot on their account. I'll
seat them somewhere right now, may a fiend roast them!"
The electrician says: "Here they are, those damn girls! Only
it's not because of them everything's gone to pot. Everything's
gone to pot because of me. Now," he says, "I'll give you light. I
don't begrudge energy on principle."
And that very moment he gave light.
"Begin," he says.
So they seat his girls in excellent seats and the show begins.
Now you can figure out for yourself who is more important in
the complex theatrical mechanism.
Of course, if you examine the matter dispassionately, then a
tenor is of immense value to a theater. Another opera cannot
go on without him. But without an electrician, too, there is no
life on the theatrical boards. So that each of the two represents
a singular value.
And so there's no reason to put on airs: so to speak, look at
me, I'm a tenor. There's no reason to avoid friendly relations; or
to take a murky picture, not in focus.
Not long ago a very curious thing occurred.
It's all the more interesting in that it happens to be a fact. There
is nothing invented here, nothing in the way of pure fantasy. On
the contrary, all is taken, so to speak, from life itself.
And it's all the more interesting that the affair has some love
interest in it. For this reason many will regard it playfully, as
a token of what at the given moment is happening on this fairly
important and actual front.
So there you are, it was two years ago in the city of Saratov
that such an event took place. A certain more or less unideological
young man, Serezha Khrenov, who is really an employee, or, more
likely, a sorter-receiver at a certain institution, began to keep
company with a certain girl, with a certain working girl let's say.
Or she began to keep company with him. As for how long it had
been going on, there is by now no way of figuring it out. It is
only known that they came to be seen together on the streets of
They began to stroll along together and to go out. They even
began to go around hand in hand. They began to utter some
various loverly words. And so on. And like that. And et cetera.
But this young dandy of a sorter once remarks to his lady like
this: "Look here," he says, "Citizen Anna Lytkina. Now," he
says, "we go strolling with you, and we walk together, and
absolutely," he says, "we cannot foresee what will come of all this.
So," he says, "be so kind, give me a receipt: to wit, in the event
that, and if, a child is produced, then you have no claims what-
ever on the designated person. And I," says he, "possessing a
receipt like that, I will be," he says, "more affectionate with you.
In the opposing instance, now, I," says he, "woud sooner turn
away from our love with you than subsequently suffer unrest
because of our activities and pay money for the upkeep of
Either she was very much in love with him or this dandy had
sunk her head in his own swamp of lack of ideology; in any
case, she did not stand about vainly arguing with him, but took the
paper and signed it for him. "To wit, and so forth, and in the in-
stance of which, I have no claim whatsoever on him and I will
demand no money from him."
She signed this paper for him, but naturally she said a few
words to him while doing it.
'This," she says, "is rather strange on your part. I have
never given such receipts to anyone before. And it's even," she
says, "quite an insult to me that your love takes such odd forms.
But," she says, "if you want to put it that way, then of course I'll
sign your paper for you."
The sorter says: "So please be so kind. I," he says, "have been
sizing up our country for the past ten years and I know what
comes of this."
In a word, she signed the paper. And he, not being a fool, had
the signature of her charming hand notarized in the housing ad-
ministration, and he stored this precious document as close to his
heart as possible.
To make it brief, within a year and a half they stood as sweet-
hearts before the people's judge, and were in the process of report-
ing to him on their former feeling for each other, now ex-
She stood in her white knitted shawl and rocked an infant.
"Yes," says she, "I really did sign it in my stupidity, but then
a child like this was born, and let the father do his bit too. The
more so since I don't have any work right now."
But he, the former young father that is, stands cool as a
cucumber and grins into his whiskers.
To wit, what is all this talk about? What's going on here any-
way? What's coming off I don't get it. When it's all so clear
and obvious, and with all that, be so kind, here is the document.
He triumphantly flings open his jacket, grubs about in it a bit,
and pulls out his cherished paper.
He pulls out his cherished paper and, smiling softly, puts it
on the judge's table.
The people's judge examined this receipt, looked at the sig-
nature and at the seal, smiled, and this is what he says: "No doubt
about it, the document is correct."
The sorter says: "Why, certainly, if you'll pardon me, of course
It's correct! Why, there just isn't any doubt. Every rule," says he,
"is observed, and nothing is violated."
The people's judge says: 'The document, undoubtedly, is
correct. But there happens to be an interpretation as follows:
Soviet law is on the side of the child and once and for all defends
his interests. And in this given instance the child cannot be held
responsible by law nor can he be allowed to suffer just because
his father accidentally turned out to be such a rather sly son of a
bitch. And in force of that," says he, "your afore-mentioned
receipt cuts no ice whatsoever, and its only value is as a
souvenir. Here," says he, "take it back and store it in your breast
as quick as you can."
To make it brief, it's been half a year now that the former father
is paying money.
M. P. SINIAGIN
(Reminiscences of Michel Siniagin)
This book is a reminiscence of a certain man, as it were; of a
little-known minor poet, with whom the author has come into
contact during the course of a good many years.
The fate of this man, this author, has been an extremely
striking one, and in view of this, the author has decided to write
these, as it were, reminiscences of him, a kind of biographical
novella, as it were, not for the edification of posterity, but simply
for its own sake.
One needn't always be writing biographies and memoirs of
remarkable and great men, of their exemplary lives and their
great ideas and achievements. Someone has to respond to the
experiences of other, let us say, more average people, who have
not been, so to speak, inscribed in the velvet-bound book of life.
Because the lives of such people, in the author's opinion, are
also sufficiently instructive and curious. Mistakes, blunders,
sorrows, and joys are scarcely diminished in their measure because
the man who experienced them, let's say, failed to paint on a
canvas some charming chef-d'oeuvre "Girl with Jug" or
never quickly mastered the piano keys, or, let's say, never dis-
covered for the good and peace of mankind some superfluous
comet or star in the firmament.
On the contrary, the lives of such ordinary people are even
more comprehensible, even more worthy of astonishment than,
let us say, some exceptional and extraordinary deeds and ex-
travagances of an artist of genius, a pianist or a tuner. The lives
of such simple people are even more interesting and even more
accessible to the understanding.
The author does not wish to imply that you are now about to
see anything of such exceptional interest, anything amazing in the
way of experiences or passions. No, this will be a life modestly
Uved; described, moreover, a bit hastily, carelessly, and with
niany errors. Of course, the author tried as hard as he could, but
for utter brilliance of description he lacked, as it were, that
necessary calmness of spirit and love for petty detail and ex-
perience. Here there will not be that calm breath of a man over-
confident and secure in his convictions, the breath of an author
whose fate is protected and nourished by a golden age.
Here there will not be beauty of phrase, bold turns of speech,
and exclamations over the greatness of nature.
Here there will be life simply and truthfully expounded. More-
over, the author's rather ticklish nature, his restlessness and his
attention to other trifles, compels him from time to time to inter-
rupt the flow of the narrative to resolve some topical problem or
Concerning the book's chapter headings, the author is willing
to concede that the headings are a bit dry and academic they
offer little to the mind or the heart. But the author keeps these
headings for the time being. The author had wished to give this
book some other title, for example: In Life's Paws or Life
Begins the Day after Tomorrow. But he lacked the conviction and
the gall to do this. Moreover, these chapter headings have prob-
ably already had some literary currency, and the author has
been unable to find the necessary wit and inventiveness for writing
new chapter headings.
One Hundred Years from Now. Of Our Time. Of Adaptability.
Of Duels. Of Stockings. Prologue to the History.
There, in the distant future, let us say within a hundred or
perhaps even somewhat fewer years, when everything will have
been decisively shaken down and established, when life will dazzle
us all with its ineffable brilliance, some citizen or other, some
such citizen with mustaches, in some such, as it were, short suede
suit, or let us say in his silk evening pajamas, will take, let us
imagine, our modest book, and will lie down with it on the couch.
He will lie down on a morocco leather couch, or there, let us say,
on a soft hassock or armchair, cushion his fragrant head on his
clean, pure hands, and, meditating softly on things of beauty, will
open the book.
"Interesting," he will say, eating a piece of candy, "how they
lived at that time."
And his beautiful young wife or, since it is the future, let us
say the companion of his life sits beside him wrapped in some
kind of extraordinary peignoir.
"Andreus," she will say (or, since it is the future, "Theodore"),
wrapping herself in her peignoir, "would you like," she will say,
"to read some poetry? You'll just jangle your nerves," she will
say, "staring at the night."
And she herself, perhaps, will take from the shelf some little
volume in a gay satin binding the verses of some well-known
poet of that bygone time and will begin to read:
In my window swung the lily.
I am all astew . . .
Olove, O love, O my Idylly,
I will come to you . . .
This is how the author at the moment imagines such a water-
color picture, so that his pen actually drops from his hand and
he simply has no wish to write.
Of course, the author does not assert that such little scenes will
really be observed in the life of the future. No, once and for all,
this is improbable. It is only a momentary fantasy. One can only
half entertain it. Most likely, (juite the opposite, most likely it
will be a very, as it were, healthy, succulent generation.
These will be bronzed men of sunshine and health, who dress
modestly but simply, without any special pretension to luxury or
Moreover, perhaps they will never read such mangy lyric verses
at all, or will read them only in exceptional circumstances, pre-
ferring to them our prosaic little books, which they will take in
their hands with a complete spiritual tremor and with complete
respect for their authors.
As the author is about to think of such real readers, however,
difficulties again beset him, and again his pen drops from his
Well, what does an author have to offer such excellent readers?
Sincerely acknowledging all the greatness of our time, nonethe-
less the author lacks powers sufficient to present a corresponding
opus, one that fully depicts our epoch. Perhaps the author has
corrupted his brain with his trivial everyday petit bourgeois oc-
feupations, with various personal sorrows and tasks, but he simply
lacks the powers for an extensive opus of the kind that might have
some interest for his future distinguished readers. No, surely it
is better to close one's eyes to the future and not to think of the
new generations that are growing. Surely it is better to write for
the readers we know.
But here again, doubts appear and the pen drops from the
hand. At the present time, when the sharpest, most necessary and
even unavoidable theme is the collective farm, the shortage of
scales or the construction of silos it may be that it is simply
untactful to write this way, just about the experiences of people
who, essentially speaking, play no part at all in the complex
mechanism of our days.
The reader may simply curse the author as a swine. "Eheh,"
he will say, "look what this one's writing about yet! Experiences
he's describing, the plague. Look, now," he'll say, "what's the
good, he starts piling up poems about flowers."
No, about flowers the author will not write. The author will
write a novella, in his opinion even a wholly necessary novella,
summing up, so to speak, the life of the past; a novella about a
certain insignificant poet who lived in our time. Of course, the
author foresees some cruel criticism in this sense on the part of
young and frivolous critics who observe such literary facts super-
However, the author's conscience is clear. The author does not
forget the other front either and does not shun writing about
absenteeism, silage, or the liquidation of illiteracy. On the con-
trary even, such modest work suits him once and for all.
But along with this, the author feels an extreme urgency to
write his reminiscences of this man as quickly as possible, for
as time passes he will step beyond our ken, and overgrown with
grass will be the path along which our modest hero passed, our
acquaintance, and, we might as well say it, our relative, M. P.
For this last circumstance permitted the author to see his
entire life, all the trifling details of his life and all its events as
they unfolded in the last years. His entire personal life passed, as
on a stage, before the author's eyes.
Here now, the one with the mustaches, the one in the short
suede suit, if, God forbid, he squeaks through to that future
century, will be slightly surprised and will sink brooding into his
"Lovekins," he will say, looking down his mustaches, "interest-
ing," he will say. "the kind,'* he will say, "of a personal life they
"Andreus," she will say in a chesty voice, "don't bother me,"
she will say, "for God's sake, I'm reading poetry . . ."
But, as a matter of fact, reader, this kind of a man with
mustaches in those peaceful times of his just won't be able to
imagine our life correctly at all. He will probably think that we
were squatting in mud huts, that we ate sparrows, and led some
unthinkable kind of wild life, full of daily catastrophes and
True, one must say immediately, there were many who did not
have the kind of personal life just mentioned they dedicated all
their powers and all their will to their ideas and to achieving their
Well, there were also those who behaved less admirably, who
adapted themselves and tried to bring themselves into step with
the time in order to live comfortably and to eat a bit more fully.
And life took its normal course. They experienced love and
jealousy, and the birth of children, and various great maternal
emotions, and various other excellent emotions like that. And we
went with our girls to the movies. And we rowed boats. And
played the guitar. And ate waffles with whipped cream. And wore
fashionable striped socks. And danced the fox trot to the house-
hold piano . . .
No, so-called personal life went on in a small way, as it always
goes on in any other circumstances.
And the enthusiasts of such a life, as far as they were able,
adapted and accommodated themselves.
Every epoch, so to speak, has its own psyche. And in every
epoch thus far it has been singularly easy or, more likely, singu-
larly difficult to live.
Take, for example, some assuredly disturbed century, let's say,
the sixteenth. What we see there well, it seems downright
unthinkable. At that time, they went out and fought duels almost
every day. They hurled visitors from towers. And thought nothing
of it. It was all in the order of things.
Whereas for us, with our own psyche, it is downright frighten-
ing to imagine a life like theirs. For example, some feudal son
of a bitch or other of theirs, some viscount or other, or some
former Graf at that time, goes strolling, for example.
There he goes, strolling, and that means his sword is at his
side: and, God preserve us, if someone should shoulder him a bit
or cuss him out right away, he has to fight. And it's taken for
He goes for a stroll, and on his face there isn't even a trace of
misery or panic. On the contrary, he walks along, and maybe he's
even smiling or whistling. Well, he'll even kiss his wife carelessly
when he says good-bye.
"Well, ma chMe" he'll say, "I'm gonna . . . take a little stroll."
And she doesn't even flinch.
"Okay," she'll say. "Don't be late for dinner."
In our time, now, a woman would burst into tears and clasp his
feet, begging him not to go out on the street, or would at least beg
him to secure for her a life less calamitous. But then it was done
simply and submissively. He took his good sword, felt the edge to
see if it had been blunted by a previous skirmish, and went out to
wander around until dinnertime, with almost every chance of a
duel or encounter.
The author must say that if he had lived in that epoch, it would
have taken quite a bit to smoke him out of the house. And he
would have locked himself up all his life right down to our own
Yes, from our point of view, the life was unattractive. But they
didn't even notice this then, and just lived, spitting away. And
they even went calling on those who had towers.
So that, in this sense, man is quite magnificently constructed.
Whatever life offers, he finds it charming. And those who can't,
undoubtedly go off to the side so as not to be trampled underfoot.
In this sense, life has very strict rules, and it isn't everyone who
can lie across the path and have differences of opinion.
So now we come to the main point of our story, from which,
actually, this book began. The author excuses himself if he has
chattered superfluously, avoiding the issue. Surely these were all
necessary moments and important problems, which demanded
And as for the psyche, it is quite believable. It is fully confirmed
So that now, with calm conscience, we pass on to our rem-
iniscences of a man who lived at the beginning of the twentieth
In the course of his narration, the author will be forced to totich
on many depressing matters, sad experiences, deprivations and
But the author begs you not to draw hasty conclusions from
There are some crybabies who would be capable of ascribing
all adversities merely to the Revolution, which took place at that
It's very strange, you know, but the matter here concerns not
only the Revolution. It is true that the Revolution removed this
man from his position. Yet one might say that a life like this
would be possible and probable at all times. The author suspects
that such reminiscences could actually be written about any other
man who lived in another epoch.
The author begs you to note this circumstance.
You see, the author once had a roommate. A former teacher
of drawing. He was a man cut off. He dragged out a miserable
and unseemly existence. And this teacher always liked to say: "It
wasn't," he'd say, "the Revolution that undermined me. Even if
there hadn't been a revolution, I would have been cut off all the
same; either I would have been caught stealing or I would have
been shot in the war, or I would have been taken prisoner and
given the business. I," he would say, "have known all along what
I'm in for and what life has in store for me."
And these were golden words.
The author is not making a melodrama of all this. No, the
author believes in the triumphant course of life; he is sufficiently
convinced to be able to live with a song on his lips. Surely there
are many people who think of this, and rack their brains trying
to come to terms with man in this sense.
Of course, this is still, so to speak, the prologue to our history.
The account still hasn't been settled. They say that people first
began to wear stockings only two hundred years ago.
So that everything is in its place. A good life swims into our
The Birth of Our Hero. His Youth. His Philosophical Bent. His
Love for Beauty. Of Tender Souls. Of the Hermitage and a Re-
markable Scythian Vase.
Michael Polikarpovich Siniagin was born in the year 1888 on
the Pankovo estate in the province of Smolensk.
His mother was a noblewoman and his father a distinguished
But inasmuch as the author was ten years younger than M. P.
Siniagin, he can say nothing of the tangle of his early years, until
the year 1916.
But inasmuch as he was always even at the age of forty
called Michel, it is apparent that he had a tender childhood, a
good deal of attention, love, and affection. They called him
Michel, and truly they could not have called him anything else.
All other, coarse nicknames were little suited to his nature, to
his delicate physique, and to his beautiful movements, so full of
grace, dignity, and a sense of rhythm.
It seems that he finished the Gymnasium, and it seems that he
studied another two or three years somewhere or other. His edu-
cation was, in any case, most outstanding.
In the year 1916, the author, from the height of his eighteen
years, being in the same city as he, involuntarily observed his
life and was, so to speak, an eyewitness to many important and
significant changes and events.
M. P. Siniagin was not at the front for the reason that he had
suffered a hernia. And at the end of the European war, he loitered
about the city in his civilian's mackintosh, with a flower in his
buttonhole and a fine ivory-handled stick in his hand.
He walked along the streets, always rather doleful and languid,
completely solitary, muttering to himself verses that he composed
in abundance, possessing as he did a worthy talent, a taste, and
a delicate sensibility for all that is beautiful and fine.
Pictures of the doleful and monotonous landscape around
Pskov delighted him birches, brooks, and the various little bugs
that hovered over the flower beds.
He walked out of the city and, taking off his hat, followed the
play of the birds and mosquitoes with a sensitive and understand-
Or, tilting back his head, he gazed at the fat clouds as they
scudded across the sky, and, then and there, composed appropri-
ate rhythms and verses about them.
In those years there was still quite a number of highly edu-
cated and intelligent people with sensitive spiritual make-up and
tender love for beauty and the depictive arts.
One must say directly that in our country there has always
been an exceptional stratum of intelligentsia, to which all Europe
and even the whole world has listened attentively.
And, truly, these were very sensitive appraisers of art and the
ballet, and the authors of many remarkable works, and the in-
spirers of many excellent deeds and of great accumulations of
These were not, from the point of view of our understanding,
These were, simply, intellectual, exalted people. Many of them
had tender spirits. And there were even some who wept simply
at the sight of a superfluous flower in the flower bed or that of
a little sparrow hopping on the dung heap.
The matter is of the past, but, of course, one must say, that in
all this there was even a certain, a kind, as it were, of abnormality.
And such a splendid blossoming undoubtedly could take place
only at the expense of something else.
The author does not in any great measure possess the art of
dialectic and is not acquainted with the various scientific theories
and tendencies, so that he does not take it upon himself in this
sense to seek out the reasons and the consequences. But one can,
of course, reasoning roughly, dig something up.
If, let us suppose, there are three sons in a certain family. And
if, let us suppose, one son is sent to school, fed with bread and
butter and cocoa, bathed daily, and has his hair combed with
brilliantine, but the other brothers are given nothing and all their
requirements are curtailed, then the first son may quite easily
make enormous strides both in his education and in his spiritual
qualities. He may even begin to produce verses, and find himself
moved by little sparrows, and talk on various exalted subjects.
Not long ago, now, the author was in the Hermitage. He ob-
served the Scythian section. And there, there is a certain remark-
able, solidly built vase. And they say that this vase of which I
am speaking, if they do not lie, is more than two thousand years
old. It's a very stylish gold vase. Of quite exceptionally delicate
Scythian workmanship. It isn't known exactly for what the
Scythians fashioned it. Maybe to drink milk out of, or to put
flowers of the field in it so the Scythian king could smell them. It
isn't known; the scholars have not clarified this point. But they
found this vase in a burial mound.
And then suddenly on this vase I saw some pictures Scythian
peasants are sitting around. One average peasant is sitting there,
another is picking his teeth with his fingers, a third is fixing him-
self a ball bat.
The author looked a little more closely holy fathers! Well,
they were exactly our prerevolutionary peasants. Well, let us say,
of the year 1913. Even their clothes were the same. The same
broad shirts, belts. Long, tangled beards.
The author was a bit beside himself even. What the devil! He
looks in the catalogue. The vase is two thousand years old. But
if you look at the pictures, it seems like a thousand and a half
less. That means, either this is an outright swindle on the part of
the scientific workers of the Hermitage, or such clothes and bats
were handed down like that right up to our Revolution.
The author, of course, does not mean, by all these discussions,
to reflect contemptuously on the former intelligentsia of which
we were speaking. No, it was simply intended to explain here
how and why and on whom the burden of conscience lies.
That stratum, one must acknowledge, was quite a good one,
and there is nothing to be said against it.
As concerns M. P. Siniagin, the author naturally has no wish
to compare him with those of whom we spoke. Nevertheless, this
was also a man of a sufficiently intellectual and exalted level. He
understood a good deal, loved beautiful trinkets, and always went
into raptures over an artistic expression. He greatly loved such
beautiful and excellent poets and prose writers as Fet, Blok, Nad-
son, and Esenin.
And in his own work, which was not distinguished by excep-
tional originality, he was under the powerful influence of these
famous poets. And especially, of course, under the influence of
that exceptional poet-genius of those years, A. A. Blok.
The Mother and Aunt of M. P. Siniagin. Their Past. The Pur-
chase of an Estate. Life at Pskov. The Storm Clouds Gather.
The Character and Inclinations of the Aunt of M. A. Ar va.
A Meeting with L. N. Tolstoi. The Poet's Verses. His Spiritual
Michel Siniagin lived with his mama, Anna Arkadevna
Siniagina, and with her sister, Maria Arkadevna, concerning
whom there will be a special passage farther on, a special de-
scription and characterization on the grounds that this worthy
lady, the widow of General Ar v, plays a by no means unim-
portant part in our narrative.
And so, in the year 1917 the three of them were living to-
gether in Pskov as chance visitors, who happened to be in this
small but famous town for reasons quite independent of their
At the time of the war, they arrived there in order to settle
down with their sister and aunt, Maria Arkadevna, who by chance
had acquired a small estate not far from Pskov.
On this estate, both the elderly ladies, after lives fairly stormy
and gaily led, wished to pass the time in complete peace and
quiet, close to nature.
This wickedly acquired property was thus appropriately called
And Michel, that sufficiently mournful young man, inclined
to boundless melancholy and somewhat wearied by his poetic
work and by the bustle of metropolitan life with its restaurants
and chorus girls and jawing noise, also desired to live peacefully
in silence for a certain time in order to collect his forces and once
again plunge into all that is difficult.
Everything, however, turned* out differently from what had
"The Lull" had been purchased only about two months before
the Revolution, so that the family did not even manage to collect
themselves there with their trunks and belongings. And these
trunks, feather mattresses, divans, and beds were stored for the
time being in the town apartment of acquaintances in Pskov. As
things turned out, Michel himself and his aged mama and auntie
were to live in this very apartment for several years more.
Distinguished by their free thought and having a certain, as it
were, tendency toward, and love for, revolutions, neither of the
elderly ladies lost their heads very much on the occasion of the
revolutionary overturn and the seizure of estates from the land-
owners. Maria Arkadevna, the younger sister, however, having
invested nearly sixty thousands of capital in this matter, never-
theless sighed once again, dropped a curtsy, and said the devil
knew what the hell was going on, inasmuch as it was impossible
to drive to the estate she had purchased with her own blood
Anna Arkadevna, Michel's mother, was a fairly inconspicuous
lady. She had not distinguished herself especially with anything
in her life, excepting the birth of the poet.
She was a fairly quiet, elderly lady, who quarreled little and
loved to sit by the samovar and drink coffee with cream.
As concerns Maria Arkadevna, however, she was a lady of
quite a different stamp.
The author had not the pleasure of seeing her in her youth; it
was well known, however, that she was an extremely endearing
and sympathetic girl, full of life, fire, and temperament.
But in the years of which we speak, she was already an elderly
lady who had lost her figure; she was more featureless than beauti-
ful, but very active and energetic.
In this sense, they would speak of her former profession. In
her youth she had been a ballerina and had worked in the corps
de ballet of the Marinsky Theatre.
Hers had been even a certain degree of prominence, inasmuch
as she had attracted the former Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich.
True, he soon left her, after having presented her with a certain
special moleskin palatine, beads, and something or other else. But
her career had been launched.
Both these elderly ladies were to play a fairly conspicuous part
in the further life of Michel Siniagin, so let the reader not take
it too closely to heart nor lose his temper because the author
lingers on in his description of such, as it were, decrepit and
The poetic atmosphere that existed in the house, thanks to
Michel, evoked something from our ladies too. And Maria
Arkadevna was fond of saying that she would soon apply herself
to writing her memoirs.
Her stormy life and her acquaintance with many famous people
would make this worth while. She personally, as it were, had
twice seen L. N. Tolstoi, Nadson, Koni, Pereverzev, and other
noted people, and she wished to communicate to the world her
impressions of them.
And so, before the Revolution had begun, this family arrived
in Pskov and remained stuck there for three years. M. P. Siniagin
said, every day, that he had not the slightest intention in the
world of hanging around there, and that at the first opportunity
he would depart for Moscow or Leningrad. The following events
and transformations in his life, however, significantly postponed
And our Michel Siniagin continued his life under the skies of
Pskov, occupying himself, for the time being, with his verses, and
carrying on a temporary affair with a certain local girl, to whom
in his ebullience he dedicated his poems.
Of course, these poems were not stamped with genius; they
were not even very original; but their freshness of feeling and
their naive uncomplicated style made them remarkable in the
common pot of the verses of that time.
The author does not remember these poems. Life, cares, and
sorrows have driven from his memory the fine lines and poetic
rhythms, but some fragments and separate strophes have been
remembered on the strength of their authentic emotion.
Petals and forget-me-nots
Strewn behind the windowpane . . .
The author has not retained this entire poem called "Autumn"
in his memory, but recalls that its ending was filled with public
Ah, tell me, tell me why
And why in natute
Things are so? And why
Life holds no happiness at all ...
Another of Michel's poems spoke of his love for nature and its
turbulent elemental manifestations:
The storm has passed
Through the window
White rose branches
Exude for me a wondrous smell.
And still the grass is thick
With transparent tears,
And thunder thunders from afar
Like a bell.
This poem was memorized by the whole family, and the old
ladies, reciting it daily, repeated it to the author.
And when visitors arrived, Anna Arkadevna Siniagina dragged
them to Michel's room and there, pointing to the writing desk
of Karelian birch, sighed and said with her eyes moist: "Here at
this desk Michel has written his best things 'Storm,' Tetals and
Forget-me-nots,' and 'Ladies, Ladies . . .' "
"Mama," Michel would say, carried away, "cut it out, will
you . . . Ah, come on now . . ."
The visitors would shake their heads and, neither quite approv-
ing nor quite in distress, would touch the desk with their fingers
and say vaguely: "Mmm-so. Not bad."
Some mercantile spirits would even ask then and there how
much the desk had cost and, with that, would switch the con-
versation to other tracks, less pleasing to Michel and his mother.
The poet devoted his attention to women; being, however,
under the powerful influence of the noted poets of that time, he
did not concentrate his emotions on any particular woman. He
loved an unreal, some kind of unknown, woman, who was bril-
liant in her beauty and secretiveness.
A charming poem, "Ladies, Ladies, What Makes It Nice To
Look at You," revealed this relationship very well. This poem
Therefore I am in love with an unknown lady.
But when this unknown lady gets to know me,
I lose desire to gaze at a known face,
To give her a wedding ring I lose desire. . . .
Nevertheless, the poet did carry on an affair with a certain
specific girl, and in this sense his poetic genius departed some-
what from his worldly needs.
Justice, however, requires us to note that Michel felt burdened
by his earth-bound affair, finding it rather vulgar and petty. In
the main he was afraid that he might somehow be snared, and
somehow forced to marry, and that this might force him down to
the level of ordinary, everyday activities.
Michel reckoned on a different, more exclusive fate. And as
his future wife, he dreamed of some amazing lady in no way
resembling the girls of Pskov.
He did not imagine in detail what his wife would be like, but
thinking about it, he saw in his mind's eye some little dogs, some
furs, some harness and carriages. She would emerge from the
carriage, and a footman, bowing humbly, would open the gates.
The girl with whom he had an affair, however, was a some-
what more ordinary girl. This was Simochka ML, who was that
year completing her course at the Pskov Gymnasium.
A Passion. Brief Happiness. Loving the Poet Passionately. The
Widow M va and Her Character. An Unexpected Visit. An Ugly
Scene. The Engagement.
Maintaining a rather careless relationship with Simochka,
Michel, no matter how much he may have been attracted to her,
never for a moment allowed himself the thought that he might
This was a simple passion; it was not a serious, but rather a
so to speak, preparatory kind of love, to which the heart need
not be committed. Simochka was a charming, and even a won-
derful girl, whose face was, however, unfortunately, broadly
strewn with freckles.
But inasmuch as she had not entered deeply into Michel's life,
he not only made no protest against this manifestation of nature,
but actually found it quite charming and superfluous.
They both walked out into forest or field, and, there, recited
poems aloud, or ran about arm in arm, like children, delighting
in the sun and smell.
Nevertheless, one fine day Simochka began to feel herself be-
coming a mother, concerning which she informed her friend. She
loved his first maidenlike emotional reaction, and was even able
to look at his face for a long time without tearing herself away.
She loved him with a touching passion, knowing very well that,
as a provincial miss, she was no match for him.
The news imparted by Simochka profoundly stunned and even
frightened Michel. He was not so much afraid of Simochka as
he was of her mother, Mrs. M. . . , who was well known in the
town, a very energetic, lively widow, burdened by a large family.
She had somewhere around six daughters, for whom she searched
out husbands fairly successfully and energetically, resorting with
this in mind to every imaginable cunning, threats and even direct
She was one of those quite dark-complexioned, rather pock-
marked women. In spite of this, all her daughters were blonde
and even almost white-haired, like their father probably, who had
died two years ago of glanders.
At that time there were as yet no support payments and wed-
ding exemptions, and Michel thought with terror of the possible
He decidedly could not marry her. Not of such a wife had he
dreamed, and not on this kind of provincial life had he reckoned.
All this seemed to him temporary, accidental, and transitory.
And soon, another life would begin, full of glorious joys, delights,
deeds, and beginnings.
And, glancing at his sweetheart, he thought that she could not,
under those circumstances, be his wife this white-haired girl
with freckles. Moreover, he knew her elder sisters all of them,
having married, quickly faded and aged. And this, too, was not
to the poet's taste.
By now he wanted to take off and go to Leningrad, but the
following events detained him in Pskov.
The dark and pock-marked lady, the widow M., came to his
apartment and demanded that he marry her daughter.
She came on a day and at an hour when there was no one in
the apartment, and Michel, whether he liked it or not, was forced
to take the whole blow on his own shoulders.
She approached him in his room and, at first even somewhat
shyly and timidly, informed him of the purpose of her visit.
The modest, dreamy, delicate poet, at first, even politely tried
to deny her, but all his words carried little conviction and did not
penetrate into the consciousness of the energetic lady.
Soon the polite tone altered to a more energetic one. Gestures
followed, and even ugly words and yelling. They both yelled at
the same time, each trying to drown the other out and at the
same time morally establish his will and energy.
The widow M. had sat down in an armchair, but, with the
blood rushing to her head, she began to pace about the room with
immense strides, moving, for greater persuasiveness, a chair, the
bookcases, and even the heavy trunks. Michel, like a drowning
man, tried to pull himself out of the deep water, and, not suc-
ceeding, shouted and even tried physically to push the widow
into another room or into the hallway.
But this widow and loving mother suddenly and unexpectedly
hopped up on the window sill and declared in a powerful v^ice
that she wwld that instant leap fr*m the window into Assembly
Street and die like a dtg if he did Mt agree to this marriage. And,
having opened the window, she dangled on the sill, risking at
every moment the plunge down.
Michel stood stunned, and, not knowing what to do, ran now
to her, now to the table, then hurled himself clutching his head
into the corridor to call for help.
By now people had begun to collect on the street below, point-
ing with their fingers and expressing the boldest proposals with
regard to the lady who was yelling and leaping about on the
Anger, outrage, the fear of scandal, and terror fettered Michel,
and he now stood, demoralized by this lady's extremely energetic
He stood at his desk and observed his visitor with terror. She
yelled out stridently like a tradeswoman and demanded an
Her feet slid along the window sill, and each incautious move-
ment might well have caused her to plunge from the second floor.
It was miraculous August weather. The sun blazed from the
blue sky. A sunbeam played on the wall from the open window.
Everything was familiar and beautiful in its charming ordinari-
ness, and only the screaming - and yelling woman violated the
normal course of things. All aflutter, and begging her to cease
her outcries, Michel gave his agreement to marriage with
Madame immediately and willingly, then, got down from the
window, and in a calm voice begged him to excuse her for her
perhaps rather noisy behavior, accounting for this in terms of her
maternal emotions and sensations. She kissed Michel on the
cheek, calling him her son and sobbing away out of the sincerity
of her emotions.
Michel stood as one submerged in water, not knowing what to
say or what to do or how to escape from calamity. He accompa-
nied the widow to the entrance, and, having succumbed to her
will, quite unexpectedly even for himself, kissed her hand, and,
decisively confused, expressed the hope they would meet again
soon, mumbling disconnected words that had little to do with the
matter in hand.
The widow, silent, majestic, and beaming, left the house, first
powdering herself up a bit and touching up the lines of her eye-
brows, which had been knocked somewhat askew.
Nervous Shock. Literary Heritage. A Meeting. The Wedding. The
Departure of Aunt Maria. A Mother's End. Birth of a Child.
On the evening of this ill-omened day, after the departure of
his uninvited guest, Michel wrote his well-known poem, subse-
quently set to music: "O Pine Trees, Pine Trees, Answer Me . . ."
This calmed him somewhat. But his shock had been sufficiently
serious and significant so that at night Michel felt, with his heart
beating wildly, uncontrollable terror, nausea, and dizziness.
Thinking that he would die, the poet, with trembling hands,
dressed only in his drawers, leapt out of bed, and, clutching his
heart, awakened his mama and auntie, with grief and terror. The
ladies had not yet been informed of what had happened. Explain-
ing nothing, he began to babble of death, and insisted that he
wanted to arrange for the final disposition of his manuscripts.
Shaking, he approached the desk and began to pull out heaps of
manuscripts, sorting and arranging them, pointing out which in
his opinion ought to be published and which ought to be put away
for the future.
Both these ladies, no longer young, torn from their nightly
routine, in their petticoats, with their hair in disorder, wandered
about the room in their grief, and, wringing their hands, tried to
persuade Michel, and even attempted to propel him by force into
his bed, deeming it necessary to lay a compress on his heart or
paint his side with iodine and thus draw off the blood which was
rushing to his head. But Michel, begging them not to trouble
themselves about his essentially insignificant life, insisted that it
would be better for them to remember what he was saying con-
cerning the disposition of his literary heritage.
Having sorted the manuscripts, Michel, running about the
room in his underwear, began to dictate to Aunt Maria a new
variant of "Petals and Forget-me-nots," which he had not yet
managed to put down on paper.
Weeping and choking with tears, Auntie Maria, by candle-
light, stained the paper, mangling and confusing the strophes and
Feverish work distracted Michel somewhat from his suffering.
The beating of his heart continued, but less violently, and his
dizziness changed to drowsiness and complete apathy. And
Michel, to everyone's surprise, fell softly asleep while lighting a
cigarette in his armchair.
Covering him with a rug and making the sign of the cross over
him, the old ladies withdrew, terrified by such a nervous organism
and by the unbalanced psyche of a poet.
The following day Michel arose refreshed and bold. But the
terror of the previous evening had not left him, and he informed
his relatives of his traumatic experiences.
Drama and tears were in full swing when a little note arrived
from Simochka, begging him for a meeting.
He went to this meeting, haughty and restrained, not thinking,
however, because he did have a certain basic decency, of dodging
or shirking his promises.
The girl, who was very much in love, begged him to forgive
her mother's unworthy behavior, adding that she personally,
though she dreamed of tying her life to his, would never have
risked resorting to such impudent demands.
Michel said in a reserved tone that he would do as he had
promised, but that he could give no guarantees concerning their
future life together. He might live in Pskov for a year or two, but
in the long run he would move_as quickly as he could to Moscow
or Leningrad where he intended to continue his career, or where
in any case he would seek out a life appropriate to his needs.
While not insulting the girl with his words, Michel neverthe-
less gave her to understand the difference, if not in their positions,
which had been rendered equal by the Revolution, then at least
in the significance of their lives.
The enamored young lady agreed to everything, looked proudly
at his face, and said that she did not in any way wish to tie his
life down, that he was free to act as he judged best. Somewhat
reassured in this sense, Michel himself even began to say that
this marriage was a matter already decided, but that when it
would take place, he still could not say.
They departed as formerly, more friends than enemies. And
Michel made his way home with steady step, in spite of the fact
that the wound in his spirit could not heal so quickly.
In exemplary fashion, Michel married Simochka M. within
half a year, in die winter, in January.
The forthcoming wedding had an extreme effect on the health
of Michel's mother. She began to complain of life's boredom and
emptiness, and her eyes grew sickly, she pined away, and she
almost never got up from the samovar. The conception of mar-
riage was somewhat different in those days than it is now, and
in the opinion of old women it was a singular and decisive step
and fraught with mystery.
Auntie Maria was also in a state of shock. She was somehow
actually offended by the turn things had taken, and, more and
more often now, said that there was no place for her here and
that she would travel to Leningrad in the immediate future, where
she would apply herself to her memoirs and the description of
Michel, somewhat embarrassed by it all, paced moodily about
the rooms, saying that if he hadn't given his word, he would spit
on it all and would leave in whatever direction his glance took
him. But in any case he wanted to let them all know that this
marriage would not tie him down: he was the master of his life,
he would not abandon his plans, and, probably within half a
year or a year, he would follow in the footsteps of his auntie.
The marriage ceremony was performed simply and modestly.
They registered in the commissariat, and afterwards in the
church. On the day of transfiguration, a modest wedding was
arranged. All the relatives on both sides walked in a reserved
manner, as though each in his own way had been offended in his
feelings. And only the widow M., powdered and painted and in
a veil, sausaged her way along through the church and through
Michel's apartment where the wedding supper was held.
The widow alone spoke for all at the table, proposed toasts
and made speeches and scattered compliments at the old ladies,
somehow supporting by this means the gay atmosphere and the
proper tone of a wedding.
The young bride blushed for her mother and for her pock-
marked face and for her penetrating voice, which gave way before
no other and sat at her place, hanging her head.
Michel, however, failed to throw off his restraint for the entire
evening; a gloomy depression oppressed him, and the notion that
whatever they might say, they had caught him in a trap like any
common son of a bitch. And that this extremely energetic woman
had captured him because of his panic, since it hardly seems likely
that she really would have leaped from the window.
And when supper was over, after congratulations and pleas-
antries, he asked the widow about it, smiling crookedly and in-
clining an ear toward her.
"Surely you would never have leaped from the window, Elena
Borisovna," he said.
The widow soothed him as best she could, swearing solemn
oaths that she undoubtedly would have leaped immediately if
he had not given his agreement. But in the end, with his crooked
little smiles working on her temper, she said angrily that she had
six daughters and if she got into the habit of leaping out of win-
dows for each one of them, there wouldn't be enough windows
in the building.
Michel looked timidly at her nasty, outraged face, and, having
become quite confused, stepped aside.
"It's all a lie, regular egoism and deception," muttered Michel,
color rushing to his face as he remembered the details.
The evening nevertheless passed pleasantly and by no means
failed to honor the guests, and ordinary life began, with con-
versations of departure, of a better life, and of the fact that it was
impossible in that city in any way to arrange one's destiny pleas-
antly, bearing in mind the revolutionary threat which was indeed
becoming more and more menacing.
That very spring, finally, having pulled herself together, Auntie
Maria Arkadevna departed for Leningrad; and soon she sent
them a desperate letter from there, in which she informed them
that she had been robbed on the road, and her traveling bag with
part of her valuables had been carried off.
The letter was disconnected and confused apparently the
shock had reacted strongly on this lady, who was, after all, no
Around this time, quietly and unexpectedly, Michel's mother
ended her life, without managing even to say farewell to anyone
or to make her last dispositions.
All this acted strongly on Michel, who became a kind of quiet,
timid, and even timorous man. Tears were shed, but this event
was soon followed by another.
Simochka gave birth to a rather puny, but sweet child, and
the new feeling of paternity, never experienced before, seized
Michel, at least to some extent.
However, this did not last long; once again, he began to speak
of departure, and now more realistically and decisively.
And, in the fall, having received another letter from Auntie
Maria, which he showed to no one, Michel rapidly began to pack,
saying that he was leaving all his movable property to his wife
and child, leaving it in their full possession.
As formerly, and perhaps even more, the young lady was in
love with her spouse and heard his words with terror, but did
not dare to detain him, saying that he was free to act as he wished.
She loved him as formerly, and come what might, and he
should know that here in Pskov there was someone who remained
true to him and ready to follow in his footsteps, whether to
Leningrad or into exile. Fearing that she might insist on ac-
companying him to Leningrad, Michel tried to lead the conversa-
tion around to other themes, but the young lady, weeping,
continued to speak of her love and self-sacrifice.
Yes, she was not a match for him, she had always known that,
but if he would sometime grow old or lose his legs, if he would
become blind sometime or get sent to Siberia then he could call
on her, and she would respond with joy to his invitation.
Yes, she might even wish him catastrophes and misfortune
that would make them more equal in life.
Tormenting himself with pity and cursing himself for lack of
spirit and for conversations like that one, Michel began to hasten
the preparations for his departure.
During this time of explanations and tears, Michel wrote a
new poem, "No, Detain Me Not, Young Maid," and began rap-
idly and hastily packing his trunks.
It was not for long that he tasted family happiness, and one
fine morning, having secured official permission for his departure,
he set out for Leningrad with two small trunks and a straw basket.
A WEAK CONTAINER
Nowadays, bribes aren't taken. Formerly, it was impossible to
move a step without either giving or taking.
But nowadays human nature has changed very much for the
Bribes really are not taken.
Lately, we've been dispatching goods from the freight station.
There we are, standing at the station, and this is the kind of
picture we see, in the spirit of Raphael:
The office for receiving freight. A line, naturally. Decimal
metric scales. The weigher behind them. The weigher, an em-
ployee of the highest and most noble type, spouts numbers rap-
idly, takes notes, applies the weights, pastes labels, and issues
Only his friendly, likeable voice is audible.
"Forty. A hundred and twenty. Fifty. Take it away. Take this.
Step aside . . . Don't stand there, idiot, stand on this side."
Such a pleasant picture of labor and rapid tempos.
Only suddenly we notice that, for all the beauty of his work,
the weigher is still very demanding about the rules. He watches
the interests of his fellow citizens and the state very closely. Not
to everyone, but to every third or fourth person, he refuses to
accept their freight. The container is a bit loose he won't take
it. One has only to look and one sympathizes.
Those with the loose container, of course, they hem and haw
and feel badly.
The weigher says: "Instead of feeling badly, reinforce your
container. There's a man loafing somewhere around here with
some nails. Let him reinforce it for you. Let him knock a couple
of nails through somewhere or other and let him tie some wire
around it. And then come on up here at the head of the line
I'll take it."
Really, truly, a man is standing behind the office. In his hands
Jie holds nails and a hammer. He works by the sweat of his brow
and reinforces weak containers for whoever wishes. And those
who are refused, they look at him with a prayer and offer their
friendship and money for doing this.
But then comes the turn of a certain citizen. He's a certain
blond type, in glasses. He's not an intellectual, just nearsighted.
It seems he has trachoma in his eyes. Then he puts on his glasses,
so it was even worse to look at him. Maybe, though, he works
at the optics plant and they issue glasses there for free.
Then he puts his six boxes on the decimal metric scales.
"Weak container. Won't go. Take it back."
The one with the glasses, as soon as he hears these words, his
heart drops. But before his heart drops, he pounces on the
weigher, so he was almost close enough to brush his teeth.
The one in the glasses yells: "What are you doing to me any-
way! I," he says, "won't take my boxes away. I," he says, "take
state boxes from the optics plant. Where am I to poke around
with my boxes? Where will I find transportation? And from
where will I get a hundred rubles to take them back? Answer, or
I'll make a cutlet out of you!"
The weigher says: "How should I know?" And at the same
time, makes a gesture with his hand at his side.
The other one, because of his nearsightedness and because his
lenses had gotten a bit misty, takes this gesture for something
else. He flushes, remembers something long forgotten, fishes in his
pocket, and digs out five rubles' worth of money in single ruble
notes. And he wants to give them to the weigher.
Then the weigher turns purple at the sight of this money.
He yells: "Is this how you get it? A bribe you want to give me,
you four-eyed horse?"
Of course, the one in glasses grasps right away the complete
shamefulness of his position.
"No," he says, "I just pulled out the money for this reason: I
wanted you to hold it while I took the boxes off the scales."
He gets really mixed up, tries some out-and-out nonsense, is
about to excuse himself, and it seems even consents that they
should abuse him verbally.
The weigher says: "For shame! Bribes are not taken here.
Take your six boxes off the scales they literally chill my soul.
But seeing as they're state boxes, take them to that there worker
and he'll reinforce your weak containers. And as far as the money
is concerned, you can thank your lucky stars I don't have time
to tangle with you."
Nevertheless, he calls over still another employee and says to
him in the tone of a man who has just undergone a grave insult:
"Do you know, just now somebody wanted to give me a bribe.
Remember such nonsense? Fm sorry I was in a hurry and didn't
take the money to show. Now, it's hard to prove."
The other employee answers: "Yes, it's too bad. You should
have done it to advance history. Let them not think our blossoms
are out for pollinating as they were in the old days."
The one in the glasses, who had quite crumbled away, drags
off with his boxes. They are reinforced for him, brought back in
a Christian manner, and once again are being weighed on the
Just then it begins to dawn on me that I also have a weak con-
And since it isn't yet my turn in line, I approach the worker
and ask him in any case to reinforce my dubious container. He
asks me for eight rubles.
I say: "You're kidding. Eight rubles" I say, "for three nails!"
He says to me in an intimate tone: "It's true, I'd do it for you
for three, but," he says, "put yourself in my delicate position
I have to share up with this crocodile."
Now I'm beginning to grasp the whole mechanism.
"In other words," I say, "you share up with the weigher?"
Now he gets a little embarrassed that he let the cat out of the
bag, babbles a lot of nonsense and non sequiturs, mutters about
his small salary and the high cost of living, gives me a big dis-
count, and sets to work.
Then comes my turn in line.
Admiring the sturdy container, I put my box on the scales.
The weigher says: "Container a bit weak. Won't go."
I say: "What do you mean? I just now had it reinforced. That
guy over there with the tongs reinforced it."
The weigher answered: "Ah, pardon me, pardon me! I'm sorry.
Now your container is sturdy, but it was weak. That's eternally
clear. Pardon me means pardon me."
He takes my box and writes the invoice.
I read the invoice, and there it says: "Weak container."
"What the hell," I say, "are you gizmoes up to? With an invoice
like that," I say, "they'll undoubtedly tear the whole package
apart along the way and pick it clean. And with that invoice, I
can't collect the insurance. Now," I say, "I'm wise to this whole
The weigher says: "Pardon me means pardon me, I'm sorry."
He crosses out the invoice and I go home, meditating along
the way on the complex psychic organization of my fellow citi-
zens, on the reconstruction of character, on slyness, and on that
reluctance with which my fellow citizens fulfill their appointed
Pardon me means pardon me.
BATHHOUSE AND PEOPLE
In our time, we have written something about bathhouses. We
warned of the dangers. That is, the problem of a naked man
hanging onto his tickets, and so on.
Since then, a number of years have passed.
The problem touched on by us has called forth heated dis-
cussions in the bath and washhouse trust. As a result of this,
special lockers have been installed in some bathhouses, where
every passenger may store his clothes, whatever they might be.
After this, the locker is locked with a key. And the passenger
may hasten to wash himself, rejoiced in spirit. And he may tie
this key around his neck. Or, in an extreme case, he need not let
it out of his hands. And thus he may wash himself.
Speaking briefly, in spite of this, you still have the kind of
events that unfolded in one of our Leningrad bathhouses.
A certain technician of ours, wanted, after having washed him-
self, naturally, to get dressed. And suddenly he notes in terror
that his entire wardrobe has been stolen. Only the thief, a kindly
soul, has left him his vest, his cap, and his belt.
He sobbed right out, this technician. And he stands there be-
side his locker with nothing on and right away he loses all
perspective. He stands beside his locker wearing the suit in which
his mother bore him, and makes despairing gestures with his
hands. He is stunned.
But he is a technician. Not without education. And he simply
cannot imagine how he will be able to go home now. He just
sways on his feet.
But then he angrily puts on the vest and cap, takes the belt
in his hands, and in what you might call an abstracted manner
walks blankly along the corridor of the bathhouse.
Some of the public are saying: "Thieves are stealing something
in this bathhouse every day."
Our technician, his head spinning, begins to speak with a kind
of old-regime intonation, using words like "sirs." Most likely, due
to his great agitation, he had lost certain qualities of his newer
He says: "The main thing that interests me now, sirs, is how
I'm going to get home."
One of the as-yet-unwashed says: "Call the manager over here.
Got to give him something to think about."
The technician says in a weak voice: "Sirs, call the manager
Then the bath attendant in one of the stalls runs out and soon
appears with the manager. And at this point all those present
suddenly note that this manager is a woman. The technician,
having removed his cap, says pensively: "Sirs, what kind of a
business is this anyway! This tops it! At this point we were all
presuming to see a man, but suddenly, just imagine, a woman
walks in. This," he says, "that in a man's bathhouse there are
such managers this simply," he says, "is a kind of Kursk
And, having covered his manhood with his cap, he sits down
on the divan exhausted.
The other men say: "That the manager is a woman that really
is a Kursk anomaly."
The manager says: "For you, perhaps, I am a Kursk anomaly.
But jwhere I am across the hall is the ladies' section. And there,"
she says, "I am far from being a Kursk anomaly."
Our technician, having wrapped himself more tightly in his
jacket, says: "We did not mean to offend you, madame. That you
should get on your high horse. It would be better," he says, "if
we considered instead what I will be going home in now."
The manager says: "Naturally, before me, the managers here
were men. And in this male half here they were very good at
their job; but in the ladies' section everybody was going off
their rocker. These managers had been dropping around too often
there. So now it's rare that a man is appointed to this job. More
and more it goes to women. And as far as I'm concerned, I'll
damn well come over here when I have to, or when anything's
been taken, and it doesn't hurt me a bit. But if I'm always going
to run up against insults here and everybody who takes a bath
is going to be calling me a Kursk anomaly, then I warn each and
every one of them that if he insults me while I'm doing my duty,
I'll have him carted off to the police . . . Now what was it hap-
pened to you?"
The technician says: "Sirs, why is she getting on her high
horse? To hell with her. I am at a loss to see how I will get home
without pants, and she does not allow me to call her a Kursk
anomaly. And she threatens to haul me off to the police. No, it
would be better if the manager were a man. At least he'd be able
to lend me a spare pair of pants. The fact is the manager's a
woman and that little fact will finish me off once and for all.
I am now convinced, sirs, that it will be some days before I get
out of this bathhouse just look."
The bystanders say to the manager: "Listen, madame, maybe
you have a husband here in the bathhouse. And maybe he has
an extra pair of pants. Then let him have them to wear for awhile.
Because people are getting awfully excited. And they don't grasp
how he's going to make it home now."
The manager says: "In the ladies' section I have complete
peace and quiet, but in this half, every day, things happen, like
it was a volcano blowing up. No, sirs, I am refusing to be the
manager here. My husband is working in Viatka. And no pants
of his can be brought into the picture. What's more, this is the
second time there's been a robbery here today. It's a good thing
that the first time only little things were stolen. And who would
supply me with pants again? Then this is the way it stands, sirs:
if there is anyone who has any spare pants, let him have them,
and I won't even look. I'm beginning to get a migraine from all
these things going on."
The bath attendant says: "All right, I'll give my spare pants
again. But of course it will be necessary to sew them up a bit
because they are government issue. There's a lot of stealing
around here and this month they've taken away my pants. First
one takes them, then another. But these are my very own."
Here the bath attendant gives our technician chintz trousers,
and one of the customers gives him a jacket and bedroom slippers.
And soon, our friend, restraining himself from tears only with
difficulty, is arraying himself in this museumlike costume. And
in this absurd manner he emerges from the bathhouse, little con-
scious of anything.
Immediately after his exit someone yells: "Look, there's some
sort of extra vest lying there and one sock."
Then they all crowd around these discovered objects.
One says: "Probably the thief dropped this. Take a good look
at the vest, see if there's anything in the pockets. Lots of people
keep documents in their vests."
They go through the pockets and immediately they find con-
firmation there. There is a pass in the name of Selifanov, an
employee in the central tailoring shop.
Now that the thieves' tracks have been uncovered, everything
is beginning to come clear.
Then the manager efficiently calls the police and within two
hours investigators arrive at this Selifanov's place.
Selifanov is awfully surprised and says: "Why, sirs, you have
gone out of your minds. I myself had my things stolen in the
bathhouse today. And I even submitted a report about it. And
as far as this vest of mine is concerned, undoubtedly the thief
So everybody apologizes to Selifanov and they say to him: it's
But suddenly the manager of the tailoring shop where this
Selifanov works says: "Yes, I am persuaded that you yourself
came to grief in the bathhouse. But tell me: where did you get
this piece of drape that's lying on the chest? This drape is from
our shop. It's missing from our place. And you undoubtedly took
it. It's a good thing I was curious and came along with the in-
Selifanov begins to stammer disconnected words, and soon he
admits he stole this drape.
So right away, they arrest him. And with this, our bathhouse
story comes to an end and other matters begin. We shall pass over
them in silence, so as not to confuse two different themes.
In general, both our bathhouses and the people who wash
themselves in them, it would seem, could brace themselves up a
bit these days and look more efficient. It could be that some
special thought should be given to bathhouses on this account,
so people wouldn't be able to steal property in such places of
But here, compared with other institutions, there is still con-
siderable lagging to the rear.
And that is too bad.
A ROMANTIC TALE
A certain young poet, of fairly attractive and determined ap-
pearance, the author of a book called Towards Life, fell in love
at a health resort with a certain miss who wasn't a bit foolish
She was not a poetess but she had always had an inclination
for poetry, and it was because of this that our poet quite melted
away on her account.
Moreover, to clinch it, she pleased him as a type. That is, her
appearance corresponded to his ideals.
She was a blonde at a time when, as he put it, brunettes pre-
dominated in the south where they were and these evoked no
poetic emotions in him. All the more since he was a lyricist, and,
as he put it, a singer of the revolutionary everyday. As a result
of which, he fell in love with <his miss to the point of losing his
But normally he's a poet. Has a world outlook. A passionate
absent-minded nature. Writes verses. A lover of flowers and good
food. And every kind of beauty is accessible to him. And he
understands psychology. Knows women. And believes in their
He met her on a southern seacoast, where he arrived in the
month of September while he was on vacation. And she also ar-
rived there in September on her vacation.
And there they had the unexpected fortune of meeting each
other. They got acquainted there. And a passion for her arose in
him. And she too was exceptionally attracted to him.
And they spent the whole month there as though in a fog.
On the one hand the sea, nature, a careless life with all their
needs provided; on the other hand an understanding that could
dispense with words: poetry, shared experiences, beauty.
That is, the days flashed by as in a dream, one better than the
But then time struck the hour of their separation. The time of
She returned home to Leningrad and commenced the com-
pletion of her course in some unusual sciences they were teaching
there. And he arrived home in Rostov or somewhere around
there. And he continued writing his poetry.
But he could not continue writing there, since he remembered
her person. He languished for her. And, being a lyricist, grew
And so, having sat out a couple of weeks in his own southern
city, he suddenly made a decision on the spur of the moment,
and, saying nothing to anyone, pulled out in the direction of his
miss in faraway Leningrad.
It was only at the last moment that he said to his wife: "I've
fallen in love with someone else. We're going to separate. I'll send
you money by mail."
And with these words he was off to Leningrad. With the greater
speed since she had urged him to come. She had said to him:
"Come as quickly as you can. I am living here entirely alone. All
by myself. I am finishing a course in science. I am dependent on
no one. And here we will be able to continue our passion for each
And now, recalling these tender words so full of profound
significance, our poet hastened feverishly with increasing speed
to meet her. And he was even surprised that he hadn't thought of
going to her at once, since he had such splendid promptings.
Briefly speaking, he arrived at her place and soon held her in
And they were both so happy that it is impossible to describe.
She asked him: "Is it for long?" And he answered her
But he could not stay long, inasmuch as she did not live alone
in the dormitory.
Not without a certain disturbed feeling, he suddenly noticed
four beds in her cozy room, at the sight of which his heart almost
burst asunder in his breast.
She said: "I live here with three friends who are taking courses
He said: "I can see that, and I'm a bit puzzled. You told me
you were living alone, as a result of which I was so bold as to
come. Seems you were bragging a bit."
She said: "I told you 'I live alone' not in the sense of a
room, but in the sense of emotion and marriage."
He said: "Ah, that's it. In that case it's a misunderstanding."
After which they embraced once again and were for a long
time lost in admiration of one another.
He said: "Well, never mind. I'll live in a hotel for awhile. And
there we'll see. Maybe you'll finish your education, or maybe I
will write some valuable poems."
And she said: "That would be just fine."
He moved over to the Hermes Hotel and began to live with
But he had already spent all his money and was really at a loss
as to what he would do from then on. Moreover, to his mis-
fortune, her birthday was only two days away at the time of his
arrival. That is, one day she was to have a birthday. And our
poet, not knowing much of life, was already quite sufficiently
upset. But suddenly, on the second day after his arrival, pro-
viding no intermission, her birthday struck. And our poet was
quite at the end of his wits because of the expenses this involved.
On the first day he had bought her a sweet bun and had thought:
it's only proper. But having learned of her birthday, he lost his
head and bought her some beads. Imagine his surprise when she,
having just been presented with the beads, said to top it off:
'Today, on the occasion of my birthday and dressed in these
beads, I'd very much enjoy going with you to some sort of
And to this she added something about the poet Blok who in
his time also enjoyed hanging out at restaurants and ca]is for no
And although he answered her evasively, "Well, Blok . . . ,"
nevertheless that evening he found himself accompanying her to
a restaurant, where his sufferings reached their greatest intensity
because of the dimension of the prices, of which in Rostov he
had merely heard rumors,
No, he was not miserly, our poet, but he had been, so to speak,
entirely cleaned out. Furthermore, being petit bourgeois at the
core, he could not bring himself to tell her of his extreme po-
sition. Although he did remark that he was uneasy in hotels. But
she, thinking he spoke of his nervous sensitivity, said: "One must
take oneself in hand."
He did try to take himself in hand. And on her birthday he had
tried to straddle his poetic muse so that he might dash off a few
small poems with the objective, so to speak, of selling them to
some journal or other.
But it didn't work. For a long time the muse wouldn't give,
and when she gave, the poet was simply surprised at what he
received from her. In any case, when he read the opus it became
abundantly clear to him that there could be no question of an
honorarium. What he got was truly unique, and the poet ascribed
this in part to his haste and perturbation of spirit.
Then our young poet, after having reflected on the vicissitudes
of fortune and on the fact that poetry was essentially a dark, dark
business which in no way helped one to lead an easy life, went
down to the free market and sold his overcoat.
And, lightly dressed, he accompanied his girl where she wanted
After this, he counted on being able to live through a couple
of days easily, and he tried not to think about anything and to
enjoy himself fully, skimming the cream off a brilliant evening
in the restaurant. And only after that, he decided, would he pon-
der his situation. And somehow get out of it. If worst came to
worst, he thought of borrowing a certain amount from his miss.
But on the day after her birthday an early frost suddenly struck
in Leningrad. And our poet, dressed in his light jacket, began to
hop about on the street, saying that he had managed to temper
himself at home in the south and that was why he walked around
like that with almost nothing on.
In the course of things, he caught cold. And took to bed in
his hotel, the Hermes. But there they expressed surprise at his
impudence and said that he should pay for his room first and then
he could get sick.
Nevertheless, seeing as he was a poet, they dealt with him
humanely in the long run, and said they wouldn't touch him until
he recovered. After words like that the poet quite weakened
physically and for six days he did not rise from his bed, fearing
all the while that they would charge even a recumbent occupant
the same rate for the room.
His girl used to visit him and brought him something to eat,
but what was to become of him was beyond comprehension. And
perhaps he would not even recover.
The poet had thought that after he got better he might once
again assault his muse with cannon fire. But she quite refused to
let him compose anything sensible. And the poet lost heart to
such an extent that he promised himself that in the event he
managed to escape in one piece from the predicament he had
created, he would straightaway find a job so that he would never
in the future have to depend on pure art.
True, after the hotel manager had been visiting him in his
room, the poet tried yet a third time to reach his inspiration, but
except for three lines he could not squeeze anything out:
At which time I gaze into the sky
And I hear there chirring of propellers
And someone floats down in ...
But then the words "in a parachute" could not be forced into
the measure of the line. And he could not bring himself to say
"with parachute," since he didn't know aeronautical terminology.
After this, the poet decisively succumbed to spleen and abandoned
His dreams of borrowing something from his sweetheart also
turned out to have been unrealistic. To his surprise, at the very
moment he had decided to tell her about all this, she herself said
something to him about it, but only on her own account and not
on his. So that the poet, weakened as he was from his illness, did
not at the moment even grasp the full asperity of his situation.
She said there was still about a week to go before she received
her allowance, and if he could swing it, he should lend her some-
thing, especially since she had bought his food while he was ill.
He said: "Certainly."
And after she left, he decided to liquidate his covert-cloth suit.
He sold the suit at the market, settled his affairs in part, and,
dressed in shorts and a sweat shirt, he suddenly appeared one
fine day at our office in the Leningrad Literary Fund, where he
told us this tale of his.
And for this story we gave him a hundred rubles to buy a
ticket to get back to his home town.
And he said to us: "This sum is enough for me to get home
on. But I would like to stay here another week yet. I'd very much
like to do that,"
But we said to him: "You go now. And best of all settle your-
self down to a job. And along with that, write some good poems
sometimes. That would be the right way out for you."
He said: "Why, that's just what I'll do, if you like. And I agree
that young authors, besides their poetry, should have something
else to do for a livelihood. And that's what's being done. And it's
right that there should be a campaign to promote this."
And after having thanked us, he withdrew. And we at the Lit-
erary Fund thought in the words of the poet:
O, how divine is the union,
In which one has been born for the other.
But people born for each other,
Alas, join in a union quite rarely.
On this note our tale of the beginning poet comes to a close,
and another, even more unusual tale is about to begin.
A certain by no means bad-looking young person, a well-devel-
oped brunette, decided during the course of this year that she must
without fail get rich.
That is, not that she wanted to acquire those fabled riches that
once used to accumulate among millionaires and speculators in
the lands of capital.
No, naturally, that wasn't what she wanted. That is, generally
speaking, she had once wanted exactly that. Only she hadn't been
able to grasp how to bring it off. And so, she decided to confine
herself to the realm of the possible.
She wanted to have some kind of blue Ford car with, you know,
a steady chauffeur. With a standard little dacha. A bank account.
And naturally, a notable position for her husband so she could
travel in the best circles and se.e everyone.
But her husband was an ordinary engineer. That is, he was a
hydrologist. They have something to do with water. That being
the case, he, naturally, was not going about projecting special
kinds of pillars for which he might be rewarded with money and
premiums as the creator of new ideas and perspectives.
Speaking briefly, he lived modestly on his seven hundred. And,
being enthusiastic about his work, he was to a certain degree fully
This sum did not satisfy his wife. And being an idle and empty
woman, with a weakly developed world outlook, she dreamed of
fabulous luxury and so forth.
And someone told her that in general, as things went, writers
lived not at all badly. That some of them have typewriters, sepa-
rate apartments, dachas, and sometimes, why, even automobiles.
And let her search something out for herself among this layer of
But Liza did not know where to look. And for this reason she
latched onto the first author who came her way, not without a
Just between us, though, this engineer of human souls, as luck
would have it, seemed on occasion an insubstantial fellow. And
to top it all off, he was addicted to alcohol. Thanks to which he
expressed the wish, after a month was out, that she find a job
somewhere. Inasmuch as he had little hope for her from himself,
creating, as he did, weak books of little artistic worth which did
not reflect in full measure the greatness of the epoch.
In general, he did not justify her hopes, and so she left this de-
generate of hers, having lost in the process her faith in literature
and in her own powers.
In any event, she returned to her husband. But although she
returned, she had not lost her passionate hopes and only waited
for something to happen to her as soon as possible.
And, lo and behold, at this point she made the acquaintance of
a certain foreigner.
He was introduced to her in a restaurant. And she was told he
was a tourist. And that he was living in a hotel, but that, not satis-
fied with this arrangement, he hoped to find a room in a private
home for about two months. Did she by chance have one?
And although she had no such thing, nevertheless she rejoiced
exceedingly and decided to send her saintly mother off somewhere
for two months, if only that she might not miss this spoiled for-
eigner who could not live in noisy, uncomfortable hotels amidst
ringing of bells and intrusive chambermaids.
Broadly speaking, she arranged a room for this tourist, this
delicate aristocrat, in her apartment. And although her husband
would not permit it, she stood her ground. And he moved over
to their place, with his dazzling wardrobe, Eau de Cologne, photo
apparatus, clothes hangers, and so forth.
And so Liza, believing that a crucial moment in her life had
arrived, took up with this foreigner.
And he loved her exceptionally. And he made her a formal
proposal. To this she agreed, and what's more, it even made her
very happy, to such an extent that it's quite impossible to describe.
And then she threw over her husband at once. And began to
live with him in her mother's room.
And although her foreigner spoke scarcely any Russian, and
she, on the other hand, spoke only Russian, nevertheless this
scarcely served as a barrier to their mutual international happi-
In general she was happy and dreamed of Paris, London, the
Mediterranean Sea, and so forth.
But within a month's time, the tourist, having learned to express
himself more tolerably in Russian, once had a special talk with
her in this language. And from this conversation it emerged that
he was by no means planning to depart for Europe. On the con-
trary, he even wished to settle down here. And that because of the
difficult circumstances of the depression, a certain enterprise had
been forced to close down over there in Europe, and that he had
even been left, as it were, without a job. For that reason he
had arrived in the Soviet Union, hoping to find something here
in the way of his specialty.
Paling visibly, she requested him to repeat these coarse Rus-
sian phrases of this and that. And he told her the same thing all
over again, adding that he had great hopes of setting himself up
here, inasmuch as he was a specialist in effervescent and mineral
waters. And in the Soviet Union right now, everyone needs these.
And if he managed to set himself up here, then within a year they
could boldly take a trip to Paris, if that was what she still wanted.
Then she flared up and asked him, not without venom, why,
given his position, simply that of the unemployed, he called him-
self a tourist, and why he didn't abandon his delicate habits, and
why he didn't live in a cheap- room but instead confused those
around him with his appearance and behavior, permitting them in
their ignorance to draw such conclusions.
Then he pointed out to her that he really had moved out of the
hotel once and for all, and moved over to their place for the sake
of economy, so to speak.
Then she wept and said that if this were so, everything she
knew about the way the world was made had become confused
in her weak brain. And that she had been of a completely different
opinion concerning tourists. She had thought that they all, without
exception, traveled for the sake of interest and curiosity, and not
for the reason that he had come. She had never, you see, had any-
thing to do with the unemployed. Of course, here in Russia, we
don't even have any. And, lo and behold, she had found one. Why,
she'd be better off marrying one of our clerks and at least receiv-
ing his hundred rubles a month.
And because she felt insulted and humiliated, she wept for three
days. And ordered the tourist to move back to the hotel, inasmuch
as her mother was living in the streets.
In general, she broke off with him, all the more so since her
first husband had cut production costs in his job and had received
a ten-thousand-ruble premium for this, as was announced in the
Her husband, however, not yet knowing that she was going to
return to him, had given away this money to a construction proj-
ect. He was a great enthusiast and for the most part indifferent to
money. So he just gave away this sum to the state.
When she returned and heard about this, she was so upset that
her husband was afraid she might have a breakdown. And then,
she, having calmed down somewhat, once again resolved in her
heart to find something better.
And someone told her that that ill-fated writer with whom she
had lived not long ago, and with whom she had not been happy,
had unexpectedly struck it rich. He had given up writing his weak
pieces and, suddenly and unexpectedly, had written a play, which,
they say, for power, was not far beneath Boris Shakespeare or
something of that sort. And that he was now, literally, splendidly
She bewailed the fact that she had not anticipated this lucky
streak, and wished once again to take up with this dramaturge.
But he, it seemed, already had two families and was relatively
Thanks to this acquaintanceship, she then began to move some-
what closer to the world of the theater, and here she found great
possibilities. To top it all off, she became acquainted with a cer-
tain stage comedian, who, it was said, earned very, very large sums
She had wanted to take up with this comedian at once, but at
the last moment had become frightened of some kind of swindle
or dirty trick on his part, as had been the case with the tourist, or
something like that.
And she did not marry him, but decided that, if she could make
it, she would become an artist herself.
And she began to study character dancing, so she could some-
how go out on the stage and earn money like other people.
But as a result of her chronic unpleasantness with the tourist
and the writer, her doctor discovered a neurosis of the heart and
a nervous rash on her body. And so she had to learn how to sing.
And now she sings. And she's already begun to earn money
regularly in closed concerts and in rest houses.
But she informed her husband that she would no longer live
with him now. That, formerly, she had had old-fashioned views
about money and matrimonial relations, but that now, since she
was receiving up to a thousand rubles and more for her singing,
she had fully re-educated herself and was even satisfied, and would
do nothing to undermine the independence of women.
But her satisfaction lasted only so long as they did not tell her
about her tourist. She was told that this foreigner of hers had
found a very good place here in his rare specialty, that he received
an excellent salary, that he had married a certain girl and had left
with her for his native land in order to arrange his affairs and
bring an automobile back here.
They told her that she really must have negotiated badly with
him in Russian, since she had let such a splendid opportunity slip
This news, now, was really difficult for her to bear. She even
lost her voice for awhile.
But within two weeks she had recovered, and now she is singing
again, about as well as she can. But she still has the rash on her
That's the kind of girls there are. And what can be done with
them, if they want to make money in a way that isn't done among
As for the fact, after all this she became an artist very good
for her, but quite mediocre for the public.
And, naturally, in such cases it's always better to dance than to
sing. And young persons should respect this ardent wish of the
AN AMUSING ADVENTURE
The wife of a certain employee, a fairly young and quite at-
tractive lady, from a petit bourgeois family by birth, fell in love
with a certain actor.
He was an artist of drama and comedy. And so, you see, she
fell in love with him.
Either she had seen him on the stage, and he had subdued her
with the splendor of his role, or, on the contrary, she had never
seen him act, but he, perhaps, simply pleased her with his artistic
mannerisms; the fact remains that she fell very much in love with
him. And for a while she didn't even know what to do: to leave
her husband and go live with the artist, or not leave her husband,
but simply have an affair with the actor without attempting to
build her life over again.
Seeing, however, that the dramatic actor didn't have very much
no position, and nothing very special she decided not to leave
her husband. All the more, since the artist himself was not exactly
burning with the desire to marry her, being a man already bur-
dened with a numerous family.
But since they loved one another, they managed to get together
from time to time.
And he called her on the telephone and she ran down to watch
him at rehearsals to see how smartly he performed in his role. As
a result of all this, she fell even more strongly in love with him
and dreamed of meeting him more often.
But since there really wasn't any place for them to meet, they,
literally like Romeo and Juliet, began to meet on the street or in
the movies, or ran off to a cafe, in order to be able to exchange
some tender words.
But these brief encounters of theirs, naturally, satisfied them but
little, and they were constantly grieving that life treated them
shabbily, and that they didn't even have a place where they might
speak of their mindless love.
She couldn't go to his place, naturally, because the artist was
a family man.
And as far as his going to her place was concerned, she occa-
sionally invited him when her husband was at work. But after
having come a couple of times, he categorically refused to do so
As a high-strung man, gifted moreover with an oversensitive,
artistic imagination, he was simply afraid of being found at her
place, thinking, well, wouldn't it be something if the husband
walks in and starts big talk, with shooting and all that.
And under the pressure of such thoughts, the artist, when he
was a guest at her place, so to speak, behaved abnormally and
was generally half -dead with fear.
So she naturally stopped inviting him, seeing the man was in
the throes of spiritual torment and out of this world entirely.
And so she says to him once: "Look here! If you want to see
me, go to my friend's place your next free day."
The dramatic artist says: "Now that's what I call splendid! As
you know, my profession demands fine nerves, and I," he says,
"can't help feeling a bit tense at your place."
Her closest friend was named Sonechka. A very dear person,
not uneducated. Seems she'd been in the ballet.
And our lady's husband fully approved of this friendship, say-
ing that he could not hope for a better friend for his wife.
And so, our ballerina, after some ardent questioning, permitted
her friend to use her place for conversations with the man she
And so, on the morning of his day off, our artist dressed him-
self in the very best he had and hastened to his tryst.
One should say, however, that in the trolley a little episode
occurred, a run-in with his neighbor. Well, generally speaking,
some light insults were exchanged, a few yells and so forth. As a
result of which, our artist, a man unable to restrain himself much
more than he should, lost his temper a bit. And when his neigh-
bor, after their exchange of insults, left the trolley, our artist, un-
able to hold himself back, spat at him. And was very glad that the
trolley started up right away and his offended neighbor lost the
opportunity of pursuing him as he wanted.
The mood of our artist was not spoiled, however, by this en-
counter. He met his soul mate and they went together to her
friend's place, part of a communal apartment, a small but com-
lortable room, the key to which was now in their hands.
And so they went into the room, sat down on the divan so they
might speak of their future life, but suddenly someone knocked
on the door. The young lady signaled the artist not to call out, but
the artist remained silent even without her advice.
Suddenly a voice issued from behind the door: 'Tell me, will
she be back soon?"
Having heard the voice, our lady grew terribly pale and whis-
pered to the actor that it was her husband's. And her husband
must have seen them on the street and had followed them.
The dramatic artist, having heard of a similar pretty story,
simply went into a state of shock and trembled all over and, hold-
ing his breath, stretched out on the divan, looking at his soul mate
with profound melancholy.
But the voice behind the door says: 'Then I'll write her a note.
Tell her I was here."
And so, our lady's husband (and it really was he), after writ-
ing the note, slipped it under the door and left.
Our lady, very much surprised, instantly seized this note and
began to read it. After which, she began to weep bitterly, to wail
and throw herself on the divan.
The dramatic artist, brought back to consciousness somewhat
by the sounds of his lady's voice, also read this note, not without
surprise. It said: "Dear little Sonechka. By chance I got off early
and hastened to you, but alas, you weren't in! I'll be back at three.
A big kiss. Nicholas."
Our lady, through tears and weeping, says to the artist: "What
could this mean? What do you think?"
The artist says: "Most likely your husband is having an affair
with your friend. And he came here for no other reason than to
relax a bit from his family life. Now your conscience should be
at rest. Let me have your tender little hand."
And he was just about to lift her tender little hand to his rough
lips, when a violent knock at the door is heard. And behind the
door, the imperative voice of her friend: "Ah, open up right
away! It's me. Was anyone here besides me?"
After hearing these words, our lady instantly burst into tears,
and, having opened the door, gave her friend the little note, weep-
ing all the while.
Having read the note, she was a little embarrassed, but said:
"There's nothing surprising in all this. Since you know, I won't
keep anything back. On the whole, I'd like you to leave instantly,
since I'm expecting someone."
Our lady says: "What do you mean 'someone*? It's quite clear
from the note that it's my husband you're expecting. A fine busi-
ness to leave at such a moment. Why, maybe I'd like to see how
that rascal crosses the threshold of this hangout."
The young man, whose mood had been utterly spoiled by all
these scrapes, wanted to leave, but our lady in the heat of her
temper would not permit him.
She said: "My husband will show up at any moment, and then
we will cut through this Gordian knot."
Hearing these words, so close to military terminology, the artist
picked up his hat and began to say good-bye even more ener-
getically and to leave. But at this point the friends began to ex-
change insults and to quarrel about whether he should go or not.
At first, both the friends wanted him to stay until the husband
arrived, as material evidence. The first, in order to show her hus-
band what kind of a bird this friend was, letting them use her
room; the second, to show him what kind of a wife he had.
But after awhile they changed their minds. The friend suddenly
did not wish to compromise herself, and the wife did not wish
her husband to set eyes on her. Having talked this over, they
ordered our artist to get out instantly.
The latter, quite content with the turn the argument had taken,
had just begun to say good-bye when suddenly there was a knock
on the door. And the husband's voice said: "Dear Sonia, it's me!
At this point, a certain panic and confusion spread through the
The dramatic artist instantly suspended his breath and, falling
into a fearful melancholy, wanted to stretch out on the divan so
that he might create the role of a sick or dying man, but soon re-
flected that in this horizontal position he might be taken for some-
one lying frivolously on a divan, and so they might open fire on
lim all the more readily.
Impelled by this thought, he began to scurry about the room,
knocking against everything with his feet and producing a terrible
noise and clatter.
The husband behind the door was exceedingly surprised at the
delay and clatter and began to pound on the door with increased
energy, thinking something strange must be going on in the room.
Then the friend says to the artist: "This door here leads into my
neighbor's room. I will now open it for you. Go through it. From
there, you will find a door to the corridor and staircase. My best
And she herself quickly opens the latch on the door and asks
the artist to get out as quick as he can, all the more urgently that
the husband, having heard all the noise in the room, was beginning
to tear the door from its hinges in order to get in. Then our artist
escaped the bullets, into the neighbor's room, and he would very
much have liked to get into the corridor, when he suddenly noticed
that the door to the corridor was locked on the outside, appar-
ently with a padlock.
The artist would have rushed back to tell the ladies that he was
in a critical position the door was locked and he couldn't get
out. But it was already too late.
The husband had been let into the room and a conversation had
arisen there, into the midst of which the projection of the artist
would have been most undesirable.
Then the artist, by no means a stolid man, felt himself instantly
drained of strength because of the great number of events he had
been through, and, feeling physical lassitude and dizziness,
stretched out on the bed, assuming he was quite safe here.
So, you see, he stretches out on the bed and thinks various
desperate thoughts of this, that, and in particular of the foolish-
ness of love's impulses. And suddenly he hears someone in the
corridor turning a key in the lock. In a word, someone is standing
by the door and would no doubt presently enter the room.
And suddenly the door is really opening, and on the threshold
appears a man with a little basket of pastries and a bottle of wine.
Seeing the man lying on his bed, his mouth gapes in surprise,
and, not getting it at all, he wants to slam the door behind him.
The artist begins to excuse himself and to chatter away in a
confused fashion, and suddenly he notices with terror that the
master of the room, the man who had just come in, was none other
than the very man with whom he had swapped insults that morn-
ing and at whom he had spat from his seat in the trolley.
Unable to rely on his legs, our artist, like a child of tender years,
once again stretches out on the bed, thinking that if worst came to
worst it was after all only a dream which would soon pass away
and then a splendid life would begin without any special un-
pleasantnesses or scrapes.
The man, whose surprise had given way to anger, had come in
and says in a mournful voice: "What's going on here, gentlemen?
I'm expecting a visit from a friend at any moment, and here, just
look, some kind of creep has stretched himself out in my room.
How the hell did he get in? Through a locked door?"
The artist, seeing that his arms aren't being broken and no one
is beating him up, says with some rise in spirit: "Ah, pardon me! I
will leave this moment. I only lay down for half a second to take
a little snooze ... I didn't know this was your bed ... So much
has happened, I was feeling a bit dizzy . . ."
At this point the master of the room, whose surprise had again
given way to anger, began to yell: "But this is really rude! Just
look at him, he was lying with his feet up on my bed. Why, I
wouldn't even let a friend of mine put his feet up there. There's
something new for you! What a scoundrel!"
And he runs up to the artist, grabs him by the shoulders, and is
literally pulling him off the bed when suddenly he sees that the
person of the artist is already known to him from the events of that
At this point there follows a slight pause.
The master, beside himself, says: "Ah, so you've fallen into my
hands, have you, fish face?!"
And he makes to grab him by the throat.
But just then there is a tender knock on the door. The master
says: "Well, you can thank your lucky stars that the lady I've
been expecting has arrived. Otherwise, I'd have made mincemeat
out of you."
And taking the artist by the collar, he drags him to the door-
way in order to heave him into the corridor like dirty laundry, to
which object the artist fully consents and is even pleased.
But suddenly the door opens and on the threshold appears the
quite attractive lady whom the master had been expecting and
who had arrived, in a certain sense, as the savior of our ill-fated
Our artist, however, on catching sight of this lady, simply stag-
gered back from astonishment and even began to sway to and fro
inasmuch as the lady who had just come in was none other than
And speaking of coincidences, this was really something quite
At this point, our artist, who had been extremely silent for the
last two hours, suddenly began to spout and kick up a row, de-
manding explanations from his wife, and what did this mysterious
His wife began to weep and wail and to say that this was her
co-worker and that she really did visit him occasionally to drink
a little tea and eat some pastries.
The embarrassed co-worker said that since they were even
now, they might as well shake hands on it and the three of them
sit down and have some tea. To this, the actor erupted with such
violent abuse and such outcries that his wife went into a fit of
hysterics. And her co-worker turned pugnacious again, remem-
bering the humiliation of having been spat at.
And then all the neighbors ran in to see what was going on.
Among those who arrived was our lady with her husband and
Having learned everything that happened, all six gathered in the
room and took counsel as to what they should do next.
The ballerina spoke as follows to her friend: "It's very simple!
I will marry Nicholas. The artist will marry you, and these two
co-workers will also make a happy couple, working together as
they do in one institution. That's the way we should do it,"
The co-worker who had been visited by the artist's wife says:
"Thanks, I'm sure! It seems she has a heap of kids, and I'm sup-
posed to marry her. It's even supposed to be very simple."
The dramatic artist says: "I will thank you not to insult my
wife. The more, since I have no intention of just giving her away
to the firstcomer."
The artist's wife says: "Well, I wouldn't live with him anyway.
Just look at the shape of his room! How could I live here with
The co-worker says: "Why, I wouldn't let you in here with the
children if you tried to ride in on a cannon ball. She's got a scoun-
drelly husband like that, and, to top it all off, she wants to take
my room away. I see! one of them's stretched out on my bed
Sonechka of the ballet says conciliatorily: "Let's work it this
way, then. I will marry Nicholas, the artist and his wife will re-
main as they were, and we'll marry this stupid co-worker off to
The co-worker says: "Thanks! Still no easier. Suppose I hitch
up with her. Open your ear flaps wider. Why, I am seeing this
shabby figure for the first time. How do I know, maybe she's a
The artist says: "You are requested not to insult our ladies.
I consider that this is the right way out."
Our lady says: "Well, it's not, you know. I don't intend to leave
our apartment for anyplace. We have three rooms and a bath.
I'm not ready to go hopping off to any of these communal outfits."
"Because of three scoundrels, all our couples are breaking up
that's the way it would work fine. I with Nicholas, she with that
one. And these as they are."
At this point an exchange of coarse abuse commenced among
the ladies on account of this or that. After which, the men, bol-
stering their spirits, decided that everything should remain as it
was before. On this they went their separate ways.
However, entirely as they were before, things did not go. Soon
afterward, Sonechka married her neighbor, the co-worker of the
artist's wife. And from time to time our artist came to visit her as
a guest; she found him very attractive on account of his soft, de-
But our lady, disillusioned in the artist's domestic character,
fell in love with a certain physiologist. As far as Nicholas is con-
cerned, it seems he has no more romances now but buries himself
entirely in his work. Nevertheless, he sometimes meets Sonechka,
and on his day off he often takes little trips with her into the
The young woman of today does not like to hear diminutives.
She doesn't like to hear about her "little mouth" or "little hands"
or "little feet."
It makes her angry. And it can even, I think, produce an ex-
A certain person put it to me this way: "What the devil does
that mean, 'little feet.' I," she says, "take solid size nines, but you,"
she says, "have it all your own way. You're a scoundrel," she says,
"and not a man. You," she says, "are ruining my life with your
To put it frankly, I was quite taken aback at such words.
She says: "In the old days," she says, "spoiled ladies or coun-
tesses or such used to adore sentimentality like that in their
boudoirs. But I," she says, "I spit on men like you."
"There you are," says I, "thank you. How," says I, "am I to
interpret your words."
How, indeed, interpret her words, when she never called me
once on the phone from that time on, and, when she met me in
passing, never even said hello.
But it's true: the young women of today like something bold,
heroic. They, I have noticed, are not pleased by anything run-of-
the-mill. They would like a man to be a flyer, or, to stretch a
point, at least an airplane mechanic. Then they blossom forth, and
you can't recognize them.
But it would be interesting to ask them: What do you think,
should every man be a flyer or an airplane mechanic?
Naturally, I'm not saying that the profession of airplane
mechanic isn't, to a certain degree, an amazing one, or that it
doesn't evoke various emotions in the beholder. Only, as I said
before, it's impossible for everybody without exception to go fly-
ing around in the sky.
Some have to occupy more modest posts on the ground, in
offices and so forth.
Then they also like cinema operators. Here, already it might
be said that nobody knows why. The guy turns a little crank and
thinks he's Napoleon.
Arctic explorers also evoke feminine admiration. Well, there's
ice there. Snow. Northern lights. Just think!
Generally speaking, I've been married four times, and none of
my wives ever exactly did a little dance for me. Well, the first two
ran off with airplane mechanics. The third got together with a
cinema operator. Well, as it is said, that's the way things go. But
the fourth marriage really surprised me with its unexpectedness.
And I, as the citizen who went through all this, feel obliged to
warn other men against making similar marriages.
I was acquainted .with a certain person. And decided to marry
her. But I warned her honorably: "Keep in mind," says I, "I don't
go fluttering around the sky. And for your pleasure," I say, "I
can scarcely be expected to jump off the roof in a parachute just
any old time. So that if you are enamored with the flying profes-
sion, then I, as it is said, have no further questions for you. And
then we will withdraw the question of marriage."
She says: "Profession plays no part. And as far as flyers are
concerned, I am indifferent to them. Only one thing matters to
me, and that is that our union* should be, up to a certain point, a
free one. I do not approve of the stifling of personality. Before
you came along," she says, "I was married for seven years, and
my husband wouldn't even let me go to the theater with anyone.
And I would like our marriage to be based on comradely circum-
stances. And if, for example, you happen to be attracted to some-
one, I will say nothing to you. And if I should meet someone who
struck my fancy, you would not reproach me either. Then our
marriage will have greater endurance, founded as it will be on
the intelligent understanding of two loving hearts. And as far as
my husband having some insignificant profession, why, that's all
to the better. At least he'll know his place, and not demand the
impossible from me."
I say to her: "I am getting married for the fourth time," I say.
"As for intelligent understanding, I've had a lot of experience.
One," says I, "doesn't like to hear diminutives. Another," says I,
"runs off with a cinema operator. Now, you," says I, "propose
something else to me. But," says I, "since you've taken my heart,
let it be as you wish."
So, you see, naturally, we get married and live in various apart-
ments. And everything goes well with us, and we are very close to
each other. But, suddenly, within a week, she is attracted to a cer-
tain acquaintance of hers who has come back from the Arctic.
She says to me, according to our agreement: "If you wish, let
us separate. But if you still have some feelings for me, then stick
to our conditions. All the more so since my friend is leaving on
an expedition again soon, and then you and I will make out to-
gether just like before."
So I, like a fool, am expecting him to leave in a couple months
or so. And finally our neighbor-lady says: "You'll wait in vain
You're through: she'll never come back to you."
But another month passes and suddenly my wife returns with
these words: "I've left him for good, you see. The more so since
he's gone off on one of his northern trips."
I say: "But now certain obstacles have arisen on my side. I," I
say, "have been having an affair with our neighbor. But if you
have any feelings left for me, then," says I, "Fm agreed to break
off with her."
And so I began to break off with our neighbor. And just when
I had broken off with her, I look: after a month of quiet domestic
life, my wife has again run off, this time with a friend and fellow
explorer of the guy who left for the Arctic. For some reason they
left this polar gent behind. And she was attracted to him. And
began to live with him.
So I, according to our conditions, am waiting a few months
when suddenly I find out that she's about to have a child by him.
I say to her: "It's an interesting marriage we've got. These polar
explorers," I say, "these airplane mechanics, and cinema opera-
tors are literally dragging me off my feet."
She says: "If you wish wait till he no longer loves me or till
the child grows up a bit. And then we will continue our conditions.
But if you don't wish do as you like. In general," she says,
"you've been devouring me with your eternal whining, and you're
never satisfied. I," she says, "don't depend on you. My heart
advises me which contemporary men I should love and which I
should hate. Not only," she says, "do you not wear the badge
'Ready for Labor and Defense!' but you just barely passed the
first-aid course and for laughs. I'm not saying that you should be
a Voroshilov sharpshooter or that you should go exploring some-
where in the north. It isn't these professions," she says, "that are
dragging you off your feet. It's simply your unattractive character,
so far removed from our contemporary life. There are no million-
aires nowadays, and such likes can't cover up their wretchedness
with capital. So it's necessary to improve your character if you
want to earn a woman's love."
I say: "First, one doesn't like me to use diminutives; now, an-
other bears another man's children. And to top it all, reads me
Suddenly she opens the door to the neighboring room and yells
out diminutives: "Vanichka, this type here has started making
scandals for us again. And although he's my husband, I wish
you'd heave him to the devil. On his account," she says, "I feel
I'm about to break out in hysterics."
And, suddenly, the friend of that guy who went off to the
Arctic steps into the room. Real healthy-looking, tempered by the
north wind. And to top it all, he's a parachutist, with a badge.
"Young man," says he, "why are you making trouble?"
I said good-bye to him and left with the intention of writing all
this down so that other nonflying men might take warning against
getting themselves into such an airtight hole, as it is said.
Personally, I'm against such free marriages. I'm in favor of a
stronger kind of marriage based on mutual emotion. But where to
find this emotion if I have never even seen a parachute? And
have never lived in the far Norths
I guess I'll just have to try and be a hero, so I can compare
favorably to the rest of the population.
Once upon a time I am walking along the street, when, sud-
denly, I notice that women do not look at me.
Time was when you used to go out on a street like that, flashy
as a beaver, as it is said, they'd look at you, send glances through
the air, sympathetic smiles, chuckles, and grimaces.
But at this point, suddenly, I see nothing of the kind!
Well, now, think I, that's too bad! After all, I think, a woman
does play a certain role in personal life.
A certain bourgeois economist, or maybe he was a chemist,
once expressed an original idea to the effect that not only our
personal life, but whatever we do, is for women. And struggle,
fame, wealth, honor, change of apartments, and the purchase of
an overcoat, and so forth and so on all this is done for the sake
of a woman.
Well, no doubt he exaggerated it a bit, he was talking through
his hat to amuse the bourgeoisie; but, as far as personal life is
concerned, I am completely in agreement with this.
I agree that a woman plays a certain role in personal life.
After all, suppose, as it happens, you go to a movie; it's not so
offensive to look at a bad picture. Well, you take a little hand in
yours, you say a few silly words all this embellishes contempo-
rary art and the meagerness of personal life.
So now you can understand how I was feeling when I noticed,
once upon a time, that women are not looking at me!
I think, what the devil? Why won't the old gals give me a
glance? How come? What do they want?
So I go home, and right away I'm looking in the mirror. There,
I see, standing out in bold relief, a shabby physiognomy. And a
wan expression. And no color plays on the cheeks.
"Aha, now I get it!" says I to myself. "I've got to take better
care of myself. I've got to put some oomph into my tired blood."
So I quickly go out and do some shopping.
I buy butter and sausage. I buy cocoa and so forth.
All this I eat; I drink and feed almost without stopping. And
in a short time I get back that fresh, indefatigable look.
And in this aspect, I go flineurizing down the boulevards. How-
ever, I am noticing, that just like before, the women do not look
"Aha," I say to myself, "maybe I've developed a rotten walk?
Maybe I haven't been getting enough exercise? Maybe I don't
have enough muscles of the kind the ladies usually admire."
Then I buy a hanging trapeze. I buy a ring and weights and
a special kind of bar.
I twist myself around all these rings and bits of apparatus like
a regular son of a bitch. Every morning I chin myself on the bar-
Free of charge, I chop wood for my neighbors.
Finally I sign up for a sports club. I row and punt. I go
swimming till November. In doing this, I almost drowned once. I
foolishly dove into a deep place, but without reaching bottom I
was beginning to blow bubbles, not being able to swim very well.
For half a year, I pursue this thorny path. I submit my life to
danger. Twice I clank my head, falling off the trapeze.
I bear all this in manly fashion and one fine day, tanned and
taut as a spring, I go forth on the street, that I may intercept a by-
now-almost-forgotten approving feminine smile.
But once again I fail to find this smile.
Then I begin to sleep with my window open. The fresh air in-
vigorates me. The color begins to play in my cheeks. My face
turns pink and red. And even assumes a kind of lilac shade.
With my lilac physiognomy I go, once, to the theater. And in
the theater, like one possessed, I circle around the feminine audi-
ence, evoking jeers and catcalls and coarse remarks from the
men, and even some pushes and shoves in the chest.
And as a result I see two or three pitiful smiles, such as I don't
get many of.
There, in the theater, I go up to the big mirror and I stand ad-
miring my tautened figure, the chest of which now measures
I flex my arms and take a stance, and I spread my legs, now
this way, now that.
I am sincerely astonished at that fastidiousness on the part of
women . . . What the devil do they want anyway?
I am admiring myself in this large mirror and suddenly I notice
that I am not very well dressed. I will say directly badly, and
$ven improperly dressed. The trousers, too short, with bags at
the knees, induce horror in me and even a shudder.
But I am literally dumfounded when I look at my lower ex-
tremities, a description of which would be out of place in creative
"Ah, now I get it!" I say to myself. "That is what is ruining my
personal life I dress badly."
Depressed, I return home on halting legs, promising myself to
change my habits of dress.
And so, in short order, I get myself a new wardrobe. Out of a
lilac curtain, I get myself a jacket made in the latest fashion. I
buy myself Oxford breeches, sewn out of two riding habits.
I walk in this outfit as in a globe of air, regretting such a fash-
ion but wearing it to best advantage.
I buy myself an overcoat, with broad shoulders, at the market.
And, once, on my day off, I go out on the Tver Boulevard.
I go out on the Tver Boulevard, and I step along like a per-
forming camel. I walk here and there, I turn my shoulders, and
I do little dance steps with my feet.
The women are looking at me askance with a mixed feeling of
amazement and horror.
The men they are looking less askance. They are making
various remarks, the coarse and uncultivated remarks of people
who do not understand the situation in its entirety.
Then and there I hear some phrases: "My God, what a scare-
crow! Just look how that bastard has gotten himself up!"
They are heaping snickers, they are laughing at me.
I walk along the boulevard as through enemy troops, hoping
for I don't know what.
And suddenly at the Pushkin Memorial I noticed a well-dressed
lady who is looking at me with infinite tenderness and even flirting.
I smile in response and seat myself on the bench opposite.
A well-dressed lady with still some traces of faded beauty is
looking at me steadily. Her eyes slide admiringly along my at-
tractive figure and along my face, on which is written everything
I bow my head, shrug my shoulders, and, ideologically, I am
admiring the harmonious philosophical system of that bourgeois
economist concerning the value of women.
Then I turn to the lady again, whom I now notice is following
my every movement with unblinking eyes.
Then I am beginning somehow to be a little afraid of those
unblinking eyes. I don't even congratulate myself on my progress.
And already I feel like leaving. And already I feel like skirting
the Memorial so as to sit down in a trolley and go somewhere
where eyes are looking more in the direction of the outskirts and
where there is no such unblinking public.
But, suddenly, this attractive lady approaches me and says:
"Excuse me, honored sir ... It's quite awkward for me," she
says, "to talk about it, but you see, my husband had an overcoat,
just like that one, stolen on him. Would you please be so kind as
not to refuse to show me the lining."
Well now, naturally, I think, it would be awkward for her to
begin an acquaintance without rhyme or reason.
I throw open my coat, and in the process I make the biggest,
tightest chest I can. ,
Glancing at the lining, the lady lets out with a heart-rending
shriek and begins to yell. Well, now, naturally, it's her overcoat!
The stolen coat which this scoundrel (me, that is) is now wearing
on his shoulders.
Her moans are shattering my eardrums. I am ready to sink
through the earth, overcoat, new breeches, and all.
We go to the police station, where they draw up a statement of
the case. They ask me questions, and I answer them honestly.
But when they ask me how old I am, I give the figure, and sud-
denly, on account of this almost three-digit number, I begin to
"Ah, there you have the reason they didn't look at me!" I tell
myself. "Fve simply grown old. And I wanted to blame the in-
sufficiencies of my personal life on my wardrobe."
I give up the stolen overcoat which I had bought at the market,
and, lightly dressed, with a disturbed spirit, I go out on the street.
"Well, okay, I'll make do!" I tell myself. "My personal life
will consist of labor. I will work. I will help people. A woman
isn't the only light in the window."
I begin to poke fun at the words of the bourgeois scholar.
"It's all lies!" I tell myself. "Idle fabrications! Typical Western
I laugh. I spit to the right and to the left. And I turn my eyes
away from approaching women.
I don't know how many different professions there are. An in-
tellectual friend of mine told me that on our planet there were, in
all, three hundred and ninety professions.
Well, undoubtedly he was exaggerating, but in all likelihood
there really are about a hundred professions.
No, I have not tried all hundred, but fifty professions, now, I
have really experienced.
So you have before you a man who has experienced in his own
right fifty professions.
It's interesting, the things I've been.
No, I certainly have never been any kind of economist, chem-
ist or pyrotechnician, sculptor, and so forth. No, I have never been
an academician or professor of anatomy or algebra or French. I
will not conceal from you the fact that there are many intellectual
positions I have not occupied, that I have never looked into tele-
scope tubes to see the different cosmic phenomena, planets and
comets, nor have I ever trudged along the highway with a sur-
veyor's instrument. I have never built bridges nor the edifices
along them, in which embassies would be lodged. Nor have I
burdened my brain by mathematically calculating the number of
white corpuscles in the blood.
These professions why, I wouldn't conceal it from you I
have not experienced. I never had the education that would have
been needed for these, nor the necessary knowledge of foreign
languages. The more so, since I was partly illiterate before the
Revolution. I could read a little, but I was never so bold as to
attempt to write.
I served in the tsarist army then, and I was a corporal.
After the February Revolution, now, the boys up and say to
me: "We've got a real gem of a regimental doctor. Excuse us, a
regular plague. Won't give anybody leave, in spite of the Revolu-
tion. It'd be a good thing to get rid of him. It wouldn't be a bad
idea," they say, "if you took over this job. Especially," they say,
"since all positions are elected now. And we could choose you."
I say: "Why not? Naturally, elect me. I," I say, "am a man
who understands the manifestations of nature. I understand that
since the Revolution they're wanting the boys should hurry on
home aad have a look-see at what's going on. Kerensky," I say,
"that's an artist on the throne, he's been spinning a top to a vic-
torious end. And the doctor is playing his pipe for him, not
letting our brothers take a little leave. Elect me doctor /'// give
you leave, almost everybody."
So, soon after that, they change the regiment's commander, and
a lot of line officers, and our Goddam medic. And they issue an
order naming me in his place.
Naturally, the work seemed difficult and mostly confused.
You just barely listen to a sick man through your tube, and
he's whimpering and asking to go home. And if you don't let
him go, he's really got it in for the doctor and is almost at his
It's really a very dumb profession and not without danger for
And if you give a patient pills he won't eat them, and he's
right away heaving them in the doctor's face and demanding he
write him out a discharge.
Well, for form's sake, you ask what have you got? But the
patient himself, naturally, isn't prepared to name his disease, and
in this way he puts the doctor in a blind alley, because the doctor
can't know all the diseases by heart and can't write in every pass-
book simply: typhoid fever or dysentery.
Others, of course, say: "Write whatever you want, only let me
go. Because my heart aches to go have a look how things are
getting on at home."
Well, you write down for him: soul fever; and, with this diet,
you let him go.
But soon this muddleheaded profession is beginning to bore me.
So I write myself a pass with the designation: soul fever of the
I leave the front, and that means that this particular career of
mine is over.
Afterwards fate tosses me here and there, like, if you'll pardon
the comparison, a shell on the stormy sea.
I become a policeman. Then a locksmith, a shoemaker, a black-
smith. I am shoeing horses that kick, milking cows, training mad
and vicious dogs. I am playing on the stage. I ring up the curtain.
And so forth and so on and et cetera.
This year I'm at the front again in the Red Army defending the
Revolution from its many enemies.
Again I get out of it clean. I occupy the position of instructor
in rabbit and poultry breeding. I become a detective in the crim-
inal investigation department. I become a chauffeur. And, from
time to time, I write critical pieces and witty articles about the
theater and literature.
So, you have before you a man who has had in his lifetime fifty
and possibly even more professions.
There were certain professions I had that seemed strange and
surprising. Before the Revolution, I had one such very strange
I was in the Crimea then. And I was working on a certain estate.
There were four hundred cows. A mass of goats, lots of chickens,
and rams enough for the devil. All this created a basis for the
development of agricultural activity.
And they take me on there as a loafer.
In a word, my job consists of tasting the quality of butter and
This butter and cheese was sent abroad on a steamboat. And it
was necessary to taste it all so the world bourgeoisie wouldn't
choke on goods of poor quality.
Naturally, if you had the chance to go around tasting butter or
cheese, I bet you wouldn't refuse. But if, let's assume, you went
around tasting these products from morning to night and every
day and throughout the year, you'd start howling like a wolf, and
the light would grow dark before your very eyes.
No, I'd never been trained as a specialist in this business. And
I happened on that profession quite by chance.
I was twenty-three years old then. I just didn't give a damn, and
everything was whoop-de-do. And I was just bumming along
Crimean roads hoping I'd find work somewhere.
There I am, walking along the road, and I sniff smells of a
milk economy. At this point, all the more because I hadn't eaten
for two days. So I up and went after that sweet smell. I think: I'll
stand guard over some cow or other, I'll milk her a bit, and in this
way I'll get a little strength back.
Behind the fence, I see, there's a shed. In all probability, I
think, the cows are there. I hopped over the fence. I go up to the
shed. I see no cows there, but lots of cheeses lying around. I
just wanted to pinch a hunk of cheese and suddenly the fore-
man walks in.
"You," he says, "one of our workers?"
No, I wasn't especially embarrassed. I think I'll make out all
right. There's nobody around, and the fence isn't far away. So
I answer with a certain amount of cheek: "No, I'm not a worker
here. But I have hopes along those lines."
He says: "Would you mind explaining, then, why you picked
up that cheese?"
I say, not without cheek: "Well, you know, I wanted to try this
cheese. Seems to me it's a little sour to the taste. You don't know
how to make it, and you should be careful."
I see the foreman has even gotten a bit upset because of my
words. I notice he doesn't even grasp what it's all about.
He says: "How's that? What do you mean, sour? What are you
anyway, a specialist in milk economy or what?"
I thought he was joking, playing cat-and-mouse games with
me, to work his temper up and really let me have one. And I say:
"You guessed it. In milk economy I am the first specialist of the
city of Moscow. And I simply can't walk past these milk products
without trying them."
Suddenly the foreman smiles, shakes both my hands, and says:
He says: "Golubchik, if you are a specialist, I'm willing to pay
you an enormous salary, only be so kind as to start work soon. In
a few days, a foreign boat is going to be arriving here, we've got
to send off our freight; but to sort out our goods, we need someone
to test them. And I've been given to understand that the foreign
bourgeoisie will choke on inferior products, and then unpleasant-
ness would be inevitable. And, as luck would have it, our one
specialist has come down with cholera. And now he categorically
refuses to test anything."
I said: "If you like. What needs to be done?"
He says: "Six hundred and twenty casks of butter have got to
be tested, and a thousand cheeses."
My stomach was quivering with hunger and amazement, so I
answered: "If you like. What's all this talk? Just bring me a loaf
of bread, and I'll set to, right now, with the greatest pleasure. I,"
i say, "have long dreamed of finding myself a profession like this
going around testing here and there."
And I think in my heart: I'll eat my fill, then let them make a
pancake out of me. And, God knows, they won't be able to 111
take off on my own well-nourished legs.
"Well," I say, "bring the loaf here, I'm in a hurry to get to work.
Once something catches ahold of me, I've got to be at it right
away. Bring the bread, or I'll get bored without my profession to
I see the foreman is looking at me with distrust.
He says: "I'm beginning to doubt that you're the best specialist
in milk economy in the world. They test milk products without
bread, and without anything, otherwise there's no way of telling
what kind it really is, or judging the taste."
Here I see that I've slipped, but I say: "Sure, I know that. And
you're pretty thick-skinned if you don't get it. I don't want the
bread to eat, but I need it to put it in contact with these two
products, and then I can see how sour they are, and when I test
them I won't make a mistake about how spoiled they are. This,"
I say, "is the latest method used abroad. I," I say, "am surprised
at your ignorance and isolation from Europe."
At this point, they show me around, here and there, cere-
moniously. They sign me up. They dress me in white overalls, and
they say: "All right, let's go to the casks."
But my heart's in my heels from fear, and my feet are hardly
So, we went to the casks, but at this point luck comes to my
rescue, and the foreman is called away on some urgent task. I gave
a sigh of relief. I say to the workers: "Help me out, brothers. I
don't know the least little thing about this business. So tell me
quick what do you taste the butter with, your finger or some
special kind of silver?"
So, the workers laugh at me, they die laughing; nevertheless,
they tell me what I have to do, and, more important, what I have
So, the foreman arrives; I've put blinders on him. I let slip
various special phrases, I taste in the correct way. I see the
man has practically blossomed out because of my high qualifica-
And so, toward evening, having fed my fill, I decided not to
leave this well-nourished position. And so I stayed.
The profession seemed stupid and confused. One had to taste
butter with such a special, long, thin spoon. Had to scoop the
butter from the bottom of the cask and taste it. And if it's a little
spoiled or lacking a little something, or there's an extra fly or
something, or it's a little salty it has to be junked, so as not to
arouse displeasure among the world-wide bourgeoisie.
Well, all at once, naturally, I couldn't tell the difference all
the butter tasted pretty good to me. But after awhile I learned,
and even started bawling out the foreman, who was thoroughly
pleased that he had found me. And he even wrote the owner a
letter, where he spun out a lot of stories about himself and asked
for a raise or some kind of badge for excellent service.
So, you see, I was naturally quite pleased with my profession
during those first days. As it was, when you'd had enough cheese,
you could try the butter for awhile. Better, I think, if there never
had been such a job on this planet.
Later I see everything is not as it should be.
After two weeks, I began to suffer, and already to dream of
parting with all this.
Because by day you are testing fats, and you don't lay eyes on
anything. You'd like to eat something, but haven't the stomach for
it. And inside you feel miserable, and life seems boring and
And with all this, it was strictly forbidden to drink. Impossible
to take any wine or vodka in your mouth. Because alcohol kills
the taste, so you'd do a bad job and quality would go to pot.
Briefly speaking, after two weeks, I would lie down after work
with my stomach up, and I would lie in the sun without moving,
hoping it's hot rays would sweat out the superfluous fat, and I
might once again feel like walking, strolling, eating borsch and
cutlets, and so forth.
Now, I had a friend in those regions. A certain excellent
Georgian. Name of Misha. A quite remarkable man, and a
spiritual comrade. And he too was a degustator, a taster. Only
in another line. He tested wines.
In the Crimea, there were wine cellars like that belonging to
a local government department. And that's where he was testing.
And his thoroughly confused profession was even worse than
He wasn't even allowed to eat. From morning to night he tested
ine, and it was only in the evening he had a right to eat anything.
I suffered from fats, and didn't feel like taking anything in
my mouth. And I wasn't allowed to drink. And appetite I did not
But with him, just the opposite. He was bursting with wine.
From early morning, he is slurping various Crimean wines and
scarcely can walk and it's reached a point where the light is no
longer dear to him.
So, by and by, we'd meet in the evening me, stuffed; him,
drunk and we'd see our friendship is coming to a dead end.
Neither of us wants to talk about anything. He wants to eat; I, on
the contrary, want to drink. Our common interests are few, and
there's a vile taste in the mouth. So we sit like idiots and stare out
into the steppe. But there's nothing in the steppe. And over our
heads heaven and the stars. But somewhere, maybe, life goes
on, full of happiness and joy . . .
So, once, I say to him: "Misha," I say, "we've got to go. Even
though I've got a contract till fall, I just won't make it. I am refus-
ing to eat butter. It lowers my human dignity. I'm taking off, I'm
going to swipe a cheese and let my fat-assed foreman see me do
He says: "It's not a good idea to leave before fall. No work
to be found now. We've got to think up something more original.
Give me time. I'll think of something. Hunger makes me very
And so, once, he says to me: "You know what, why don't we
exchange professions for awhile. I'll test butter and you test wine.
Let's work it like that for a week or two, and then we'll change
back again. And then again. That way, we'll have a kind of
balance. And the main thing is, we'll rest, since those bloody
devils won't give us any vacation and just keep us feeding and
drinking without stop."
I am quite delighted with these words, but I express some
doubt as to whether our foremen will permit it.
He says: "I'll see if I can work it."
So he takes me by the hand and leads me to his foreman in
the wine department.
"Here," he says, "this short, experienced gentleman can easily
replace me for two weeks. My aunt has come to see me from
Tiflis, and I'm interested in having a look at her. And he'll be
testing for me and looking after our interests."
The foreman says: "Okay. Show him the kind of wines we have
around here and what he has to do. And come back in two weeks.
And now we've got quite a business on our hands. Instead of table
wines we've just sent a load of 'Alikote' off to Moscow. Sheer
So then I, for my part, take Misha by the hand and bring him
to my fat-assed foreman.
"Here," I say, "this tall, experienced gentleman can easily
replace me for two weeks. My aunt has come to see me from
Tiflis, and I'm interested in having a look at her and having some
chats with her about this and that."
The foreman says: "Okay. Show him what's what around here
and come back in two weeks. We've got a mess on our hands just
now. Instead of creamery butter, we've sent off sour cream to
Persia. The Persians might be offended and won't want to eat it."
So we started on our new jobs.
I test wine. And Misha tests butter.
But here we get into a lot of nonsense and confusion.
On the very first day, Misha eats so much butter and cheese
that he comes down with cramps. And I, after my first twenty
swallows of unaccustomed drink, got so woozy that I had a run-in
with Misha's foreman. And I wanted to heave him into a wine
cask because he said bad words about my friend.
So the next day they gave me riiy hat and ordered me to pack
And they settled accounts with Misha and ordered him to pack
So we meet, and we laugh. We think spit on it. We rested
a couple of days, and now we can once again take up our trade.
But here it turned out that both our foremen smelled a rat
and discovered our little trick, and the kind of two weeks we had
in mind, and the kind of aunt we had in Tiflis, and the kind of
experience we had.
They both call us in. They yell at us terrible loud and order us
to pack off.
No, we were not especially sorry. I took a cheese and Misha
some wine. And, all the way, we went and sang songs. And later
we got some other work.
Soon after that the war broke out. Then, the Revolution. And
I lost track of my friend.
^Vnd it isn't long ago I find out that he's living in the Caucasus
and has a good, remarkable, command position.
And I dream of going to see him. I dream of meeting him and
talking to him and saying: "How about it, old boy!"
Och, he's likely to be glad to see me! Maybe he'll say the same
to me: "How about it, old boy!" And he'll have them serve me
up the best shashlik.
Then he and I will eat and reminisce together about what we
were and what we've become.
1. Lo, when Lady Death approaches our pillow with inaudible
football, exclaims "Aha!" and begins to make off with our
treasured and heretofore charming life in all likelihood we will
then regret, above all else, the loss of a certain emotion, which
at this point we must give up.
2. Of all the marvelous manifestations and sensations strewn
about us by the lavish hand of nature, we will indubitably, or so
I think, most regret being cut off from love.
And, speaking in the tongue of poetic metaphor, while it is
taking leave of this world, our departed soul will be beating and
clamoring and begging to go back, and abasing itself, saying it
still hasn't seen everything there is to see, and that it would like
to have just one more look at this phenomenon.
But this is nonsense. It has seen everything. And these are
only empty excuses which, more than anything else, depict the
extreme majesty of our emotions and desires.
3. Certainly, there are, in addition to this, various exceptional
and worthy experiences and sensations, concerning which we
would also, in all likelihood, heave bitter sighs of regret when it
came time for leave-taking.
Without a doubt, we would regret not hearing the music of
chamber and symphony orchestras, not going to sea in a steamer
(for example), not going out to pick fragrant lilies of the valley
in the forest. It would be most sad for us to leave our glorious
work, and not to lie on the seashore with the aim of resting.
Yes, these are all glorious things, and we would certainly
regret all of them when it came time for leave-taking. And maybe
we would even weep. But concerning love, rather special and
most bitter tears would be shed. And when we bid farewell to
this emotion, in all likelihood, the whole world will fade before
us in its majesty, and will seem to us empty, cold, and of but
As a certain poet once said:
Love ornaments life,
Love is nature's charm . . .
I am inwardly convinced,
All that replaces love is naught.
So, you see, the French poet Mussel said that all is naught in
comparison with this emotion. But, of course, he was in part
mistaken. Of course, he was overdoing it.
4. It's all the more important not to forget that a Frenchman
spoke these lines. That is, a man extremely emotional by nature
and, forgive me, in all likelihood a skirt chaser, who, because of
the extremely agitated state of his feelings, is really capable of
blurting out God-knows-what in this area.
They, the French, at home there in Paris, as far as we have
been told, go out on the boulevard in the evening, and, except
for various beauties whom they honor with the title "little
chicken," decisively, from the very beginning, they see nothing
else. That's what they are in the way of lovers of feminine beauty
So that we have some foundation in lightly snuffing the amazing
ardor of these poetic lines.
5. But just look at a Russian poet. And the Russian poet isn't
so far from the ardent Gallic mind. Even more so. Not only about
love itself, but even about being in love, we find in his works
amazing lines like these:
Ah, loving, thou art more strict than fate,
More imperious than our father's ancient laws . . .
Sweeter than sounds of martial trumpet.
From which it may be concluded that our most famous poet
considered this emotion to be one of the highest things on earth.
Something with which even the strictness of the criminal law or
the commands of a father or a mother in those days could not be
compared. In a word, he says that there really isn't anything that
can be compared with this emotion. The poet even has a kind of
reference here to a call to military service that this, too, is, as it
were, nothing in comparison. In general, it would seem as though
the poet were holding something back in his mind here. Allegori-
cally, he expressed something about a martial trumpet and then
he became somber. In all likelihood, he had something to do
with military service in his time. Therefore, perhaps he resorted
to this allegory.
In this sense, it's much simpler to deal with prose. In prose,
there cannot be such obscurities. There, everything is clear. And,
moreover, one can also use prose to explain poetry, as you see.
6. Another Russian poet provides us with lines no less power-
One should say that the house in which this poet was born and
in which he spent the best years of his childhood once burned
down. And it is curious to note with what the poet solaced himself
after the fire.
He tells about it as follows. He describes it in a poem. Here is
what he writes: ,
It seems that all the joys of childhood
Burned with the mined house,
And I wanted to die,
And I went down to the water,
But a woman in a boat slipped by
Who was a second reflection of the moon,
And if she wishes,
And if the moon permits,
I will build myself a hew house
In her unknown heart.
And so forth, somewhat in the same vein.
7. That is, in other words, making a free translation from the
pride of poetry to democratic prose, one can in part understand
that the poet, beside himself with grief, had wanted to throw
himself in the water, but at this most critical moment he suddenly
saw an attractive woman rowing in a boat. And so he unexpectedly
fell in love with her at first sight, and this love pushed into the
background, so to speak, all his incredible sufferings, and, for
the time being, even distracted him from his preoccupation with
finding himself a new apartment. All the more, that the poet
according to the poem, just wanted to move right over to this
lady's place, so to speak. Or he wanted to perform some building
operations in her house, if she, as he murkily puts it, wishes,
and if the moon and the housing administration permit.
Well, as far as the moon is concerned, the poet dragged it in
to strengthen somewhat the poetic impression. The moon, one
can say, really has little to do with it. And as far as the housing
administration is concerned, it certainly cannot grant permission,
even if the lady herself wishes, since these lovers have not
registered in the marriage bureau, and in general this would be
a rather impermissible combination.
8. I don't know, perhaps it is that our coarse soldierly intellect,
having been under fire by heavy artillery in two wars, is not
entirely able to understand the most delicate and most tender
poetic interlacements of sounds and feelings. But we are so bold
as to believe that this interpretation is approximately correct,
thanks to a certain significance that life has, and to our under-
standing of the essential needs of people, whose lives do not always
proceed along the course of flowery poetry.
Briefly, the poet at this point speaks of love as of an elevated
emotion, and there is a certain degree of frivolity in this, an
elevated emotion which can provide a man with the most essential
things, not excluding an apartment. This latter assertion we leave
entirely to the conscience of the poet.
But, of course, this is not the opinion merely of three ardent
All the others, too, strumming away, as it is said, even on the
most jingly lyres, have sung love songs even more shocking and
brazen than these.
9. I recall something or other from Apukhtin:
My heart is resurrected, loving again,
Tram-ta-ra-ram, tam-tam . . .
Along with all that is dear and blessed in my soul . . .
Tram-ta-ra-ram . . .
Withal, it was no boy of eighteen who wrote this. A solid
uncle of forty-eight wrote it, quite improbably, a man fat and
unhappy in his personal life. Nevertheless, he, too, as you see,
considered all to have been dead and lifeless as long as love had
not arisen in his heart.
Even mad lines like this come back to me:
What is love? O love! O love!
It is a sun in the blood, it is the blood in flames . . .
Something of this sort, devil take it ... how does it go ...
It is a heavenly canopy, discovered anew.
Death reigns over the world, and over death love.
10. Here, even French poetry, if you will, falls a little behind
one can say that one finds no such mad onslaught there as one
does in these lines. But it was a Russian poetess who wrote this.
She lived at the beginning of our century and was, they say,
fairly attractive. In any case, she had a great poetic temperament.
In general, one can see that the little lady was trembling when
she wrote those lines. The fact, one can say, is, of course, more a
matter of biography than an example to poetry . . . Her poor
husband, in all likelihood, had quite enough ... In all likelihood,
she was capricious. Plays the fool. In all likelihood, she drags
out the day in bed with her puss unwashed. And she's all the
time reading her own verses out loud. And the fool of a husband
sits there. "Och," he exclaims, "amazing, poopsie, sheer genius!"
And she says: "Really?"
Fools! And then they both up and died. She, it seems, from
tuberculosis, and he, too, in all likelihood, infected with some-
thing or other.
11. At this point, without a doubt, there are many skeptics,
scholars, and pedants whose hearts have turned pale in their
lonely wanderings across the northern lands of science, who,
reading these verses, will, if you like, shrug their shoulders and
say: There you are, this is the rather unrestrained view of some-
what too ardent hearts, overfree in spirit and corrupt in world
And they would be surprised that such a view and such verses
exist concerning this emotion, and words such as they never knew
and of which they did not even permit themselves to think, that
concerning this emotion something like that had sometime been
And maybe they're right, and it really is surprising it's that
way, and there is such poetry among us, but not long ago we
happened on a certain little book in prose. Its author was the
singer, Feodor Ivanovitch Chaliapin.
And in this little book, with complete frankness, he acknowl-
edges that everything he did in his life, he did in the main for love
and for a woman. That's the kind of views there are concerning
love among poetically constituted people.
12. And as far as people of sober judgment are concerned,
philosophers and various thinkers of that kind, whose minds have
shed much light on the most secret and complex manifestations
of life, as far as these people are concerned, they have entered
but little concerning this emotion in the common account; but, at
times, of course, they have reckoned with it; they have laughed at
it, and again even pronounced aphorisms out of their life wisdom.
From the more melancholy pronouncements, we can, if you
wish, quote you the words of Schopenhauer, one of the gloomiest
philosophers the world has ever known.
This gloomy philosopher, whose wife undoubtedly betrayed
him at every step, pronounced the following words concerning
love: "Love it is the blind will to life. It deceives man with the
phantasms of individual happiness and makes him an instru-
ment for its aims."
13. Of the more foolish ancient pronouncements, we can quote
the following: "Love is, as it were, the harmony of heavenly
Of the more poetic: "Never strike a woman, even with a
Of the more sober, but with some inclination to idealism: "Love
arises from those qualities which the lover prizes the more the
less he himself possesses them."
The not unknown philosopher Plato even proposed the fol-
lowing theorem: 'The essence of love consists of the polar opposi-
tion of the greatest possible contrarities."*
Of the more just pronouncements, we can quote the words of
our most brilliant poet and philosopher Pushkin:
Time came for her to fall in love.
A seed that's fallen to the ground
Stirs thus at the fire of spring.
For long, her heartbeat's languishing
Had made a tightness in her breast.
Her soul expected someone's coming.
* It is curious that Plato never departed from this view in later life. In his
famous book, The Ideal State, Plato establishes the following premises:
"Woman should 'bear children for the state' from the age of twenty up to
the age of forty years. Man can *create for the state' from thirty to fifty-five
years. The strongest should cohabit with the strongest. The weakest with the
weakest. The children of the former should be educated; of the latter thrown
away." If, let us assume, this fantastic law had been promulgated in life, then
the world would not have known Napoleon, whose father was twenty-two and
whose mother was eighteen, nor Pushkin whose father was twenty-seven.
14. But this is, so to speak, the philosophy and mechanics of
As far as more precise investigations in this area are concerned,
why, we know very little about it. And perhaps it isn't even
necessary to know about it. Or perhaps, for that matter, it isn't
necessary to know anything. Since consciousness corrupts and
darkens almost everything it touches.
As Dostoevski quite rightly said: "Too much consciousness,
and even consciousness itself, is a disease." And another poet
said: "Woe from wit." And we maintain that this phrase was
spoken far from accidentally. In general, how love arises
whether from psychic images, or whether, more likely, there
exists some sort of precise formula for it yet to be derived from
an undiscovered property of electricity we do not know and,
decisively, we do not want to know.
And so, acknowledging that we know little of anything about
love, but acknowledging at the same time that this tender emo-
tion is something of no little importance and even something
grandiose, we take into our hands, with a special trembling and
fluttering of the heart, the heavy tomes of history.
We want to see more quickly, the notable role that this emo-
tion has played in the life of nations. We want to see the grandiose
events that have taken place because of love, or the splendid
deeds performed on that account by individual citizens. We know
what we want to see. And therefore, in order to put the spirit at
ease, we make ourselves as comfortable as possible in an arm-
chair, and, smoking a fragrant cigar, we begin to turn the yellow-
ing pages of history with a confident hand.
And this is what we see there.
15. At first we find at our fingertips a whole bunch, devil take
them, of petty love matters and foolish, nonsensical little affairs
from daily life various engagements, proposals, and marriages,
concluded by practical and sober minds.
Here we see a certain duke . . . Here's the kind of man he is ...
He marries the king's daughter, entertaining hopes for the throne.
Here is another certain grand personage; hoping to add a series
of cities to his estates, he too makes a proposal to a certain
available princess . . .
* The Russian grand dukes . . . Here's the kind they are ...
From the epoch of the Tartar yoke . , ." Vied with one another,"
as the historian writes, "in striving to wed the daughter of the
khan, with the object of winning his favor for themselves . . ."
Here's still another instance, just imagine, Chilperic I ... the
Prankish king . . . marries the daughter of the Spanish king . . .
As history literally writes, "With the object of striking a blow
against his enemy, Prince Sigebert."
16. Withal, concerning these love affairs on a commercial
scale, the historians write, one can say, without any inspiration, in
such a flabby official style, as though of the emptiest, most trifling
objects. The historians do not even add any exclamations of their
own, such as "Aye-yai!" or "There's a prince for you!" or "Fooh,
how unattractive!" or even "Look, still one scoundrel more!"
No, the unimpassioned historians exclaim nothing of the sort.
Although, to be sure, if one began to exclaim, no exclamations
would suffice, inasmuch as we see, perusing the course of world
history, a whole ocean of similar cases.
But we, if you please, will not enumerate these commercial
transactions in detail. We want to touch on more interesting
questions. Although even in this area, of course, there have been a
number of striking cases and surprising anecdotes, worthy of the
contemporary reader's attention.
17. Here, for example, is a very amusing fact. We found it
pleasing because of the, so to speak, obviousness of the subject.
It is very characteristic, this fact. It is taken from old Russian
life. From the epoch of Ivan the Terrible.
At that time, a German duke arrived in Russia, a certain
What he did in his native Germany is not known, and historians
have found out only that he visited Russia with the purpose of
marrying, for political reasons, the daughter of Ivan IV's male
And so he arrived. Most likely, all powdered up. In some kind
of silk trousers. Bows. Ribbons. Sword at his side. A kind of red
snout, with reddish mustaches. A drunkard, perhaps, a braggart
and a fop.
Here he arrived in Russia, and inasmuch as he had already
discussed the matter in writing, the wedding day was designated
18. Well, there's hustle, in all likelihood, extravagance.
Mamochka's running about. Cutting up chickens. They're taking
the bride to the bathhouse. The bridegroom is sitting with the
priest. Guzzling vodka. In all likelihood, lying through his teeth.
As follows, in Germany, now, we ... As follows, we dukes, you
know, and so on.
And at this point a fairly mournful incident occurs. The bride,
alas, unexpectedly ups and dies. She's returning from the bath-
house, poor thing, catches a devil of a chill, and dies in the course
of three days.
The bridegroom, naturally, suffers indescribable grief, wants to
go back to Germany. And all distraught, he is already taking
leave of his erstwhile relatives, when, suddenly, they say to him:
"Comrade Duke! Don't go yet! We still have a girl who might
please you. Her sister. It's true, she's a little older, and maybe
a little less interesting, but she might in any case do for you. The
more so since you've made such a trip from Germany. It would
be a shame to go back empty-handed."
The duke says: "Naturally, she'll do. Why didn't you tell me
till now? It's clear that she'll do. What's all this palaver! Okay,
let's have a look at her."
And so, in spite of the mourning, the wedding soon was
19. But perhaps, devil take it, such facts and deeds took
place only among tsars and dukes?
Perhaps it was only in royal palaces that such coarse calcula-
tions and loveless marriages took place, under the compulsion
of some kind, I don't know what, of diplomacy, because of
chronic impecuniosity or the unimportant circumstances of the
lives of tsars.
Perhaps among simple mortals it was quite the contrary: Love
flowed forth naturally and gladdened and rejoiced the hearts of
To this question, one must answer in the negative.
Certain categories of simple mortals never, as it were, got as
far as love. The upper classes, as is well known, married off their
loyal slaves whenever they felt like it.
Not long ago, we read that Russian landowners quite often
married off their peasants in the following fashion: They lined
up their peasants by height and matched them off accordingly:
tall men with tall women, short ones with short ones. And they
sent off a list drawn up that way to the priest for execution.
^Here, one can say, there was no such thing as love.
And as far as various, if you'll pardon the expression, bureau-
crats, speculators, bagmen and so forth are concerned, these
gentlemen, too, thought least of all about love. Their marriages
were arranged in the manner of commercial affairs. And without
a dowry they were not accustomed to take a single step.
20. Well, and if one touches on the life of a higher altitude and
takes various counts, barons, and merchants, then these gentle-
men, for all their easy life, also regarded love in the same way.
Here is a charming historical tale that depicts for us just how
things were in this crowd.
In France at the time of Louis XV ( 1720) a certain speculator
had, through some dark maneuvers, squeezed out an enormous
income for himself. He had achieved everything. And he had
everything. But he still wanted to marry into one of the oldest
aristocratic families that was the fantasy that flashed across his
mind. With all his wealth, knowing no such thing as an obstacle,
he decided to marry off his daughter to an impoverished marquis,
who bore the distinguished family name of d'Oiau.
But at that time his daughter was only three years old. And
the marquis was thirty. For which reason, the impoverished
marquis, the enormous dowry notwithstanding, had no intention
whatsoever of waiting twelve years.
Elegantly unfolding his hands and flashing his golden lorgnette,
he said, in all likelihood in a hoarse voice, to papa-speculator:
"Listen, I'd be glad to be a relative of yours, and the sum you
propose would quite set me on my feet again, but your bride is
terribly little. Let her grow up for a few years then, let's see,
maybe I'll marry her."
21. But the ambitious papa wanted immediately to become the
relative of a marquis. That is to say, he wanted to join up with the
higher aristocracy. So, then and there, he concluded the following
agreement with the marquis. Every month he would pay the
marquis an immense allowance, until the bride became of age. The
marquis binds himself to marry her within twelve years. But the
betrothal would take place right away.
And so, for nine years, the marquis punctually received his
allowance and gave himself up to all the pleasures of life. But in
the tenth year, the young twelve-year-old bride fell ill with
diphtheria and died.
You can imagine for yourselves the tears the papa-speculator
shed! In the first place, naturally, he grieved madly for his
daughter, but in the second place, he couldn't help thinking how
much money he'd thrown away for nothing. And, naturally, there
were no hopes of getting as much as a penny back from the
And he, rubbing his hands, no doubt, said to the grieving papa:
"Now look, as far as the money is concerned, naturally, you
understand how it is yourself. Since the girl has kicked the bucket
it's my luck."
22. But there is still more! There have been even more amazing
incidents on the love front.
Now, it's very strange, for example, to read how men various
Beau Brummell types, barons, distinguished knights, cavaliers,
merchants, landowners, and tsars have gotten married without
ever seeing their brides. Withal, this was a fairly frequent
phenomenon. And yet, to us contemporary readers, it seems to a
certain degree surprising.
In those days they only paid attention to how affairs and
finances shaped up and what the bride's property situation was
like, who her papa was serving, or where he reigned and that's
all. Well, maybe a few of the more cautious bridegrooms would
ask approximately what kind of a companion-f or-lif e they were
getting, did she have a humpback or something and that's all.
They made their agreement and got married, so to speak, in the
dark, with their eyes closed. And they saw the bride only at
the last moment.
No, in our time why, it's even difficult to imagine how such
things could be among us! Among us there might be, it is true,
some wailing, nervous shouts, refusals, brews, a fist fight, and
devil knows what. But in those days, this is the kind of thing that
23. Naturally, a number of shocking and unpleasant incidents
For example, from among world scandals, two are well known.
One is a well-known incident which is performed even in the
theaters, as a monstrous tragedy and drama of royal life.
The Spaniard, Philip II, an old man of sixty, decided to marry
off his son and heir, the famous Don Carlos. He decided to marry
him off to the French princess, Isabella, which was advantageous
and necessary on account of high policy. He himself had not seen
this princess. He knew she was youngish and trying to get married,
but just what she was like, he didn't know.
But when, after the betrothal, he saw her, he fell in love with
her and married her himself, to the immense grief of his son, who
also proved not indifferent to his charming bride. After which, as
is well known, there took place the drama between father and son.
24. The second instance took place in Persia. The Persian
king Cambyses (son of the famous Cyrus) made a proposal to
the daughter of the Egyptian pharaoh, Amasis II (five hundred
twenty-nine years before our era). Cambyses made this proposal
without seeing the bride. In those days traveling and moving
were quite a complicated business. And, for a trip to Egypt, it took
Rumor had it that the Egyptian pharaoh's daughter was dis-
tinguished for her great beauty and charming airs.
And, there, the powerful Persian king, whose father had con-
quered almost the whole world, up and sent a proposal to the
Egyptian king's daughter.
The pharaoh, who loved his only daughter very much, did not
want to send her off into unknown lands. At the same time, he
was afraid of offending the sovereign of the world with a refusal.
So he up and chose the prettiest girl among his slaves and sent her
to Persia instead of his own daughter. He sent her as his own
daughter, you see, and gave her instructions accordingly.
History tells that Cambyses, having married her, loved her
very much, but when the deception was accidentally discovered,
he mercilessly had her executed, and, offended in his finest
sentiments, went to war against Egypt.
This was, if you will, one of the most powerful love dramas,
from which may be seen how love began in those days and how it
25. Ah, we see that dramatic episode before us so vividly, and
that tragic moment when the whole deception was uncovered!
There they sit, embracing one another, on a Persian ottoman.
On a lower bench, there are, just imagine, Oriental delicacies
and drinks Turkish delight, halvah, and all that. And a stout
Persian with a huge fan in his hands chases the flies off the sweets.
The Persian king, Cambyses, having drunk up a glass of their
equivalent of sherry-brandy, is exclaiming his admiration for his
charming wife and muttering various soothing words in her ear:
like this, "Ah, my sweet little Egyptian pigeon, you . . . How is it
there in Egypt? . . . Papa-pharaoh spoiled you terribly, no doubt.
But how could he help spoiling you, when you're such a sweet
little thing, and I have loved you, my dear princess, from the first
time I saw your royal approach," and so forth.
26. At this point maybe she was depending on her feminine
charms, or else nobody knows what happened in her feminine
heart, only she smiled a silvery smile and said, "Well, now, just
look at that, what dumb luck: the pharaoh's daughter still in
Egypt, and he, the Persian king Cambyses, fallen head over heels
in love with her, who had nothing whatsoever in common with the
pharaoh's daughter. He loved a simple slave girl. That is what love
did to a man's heart."
At this point, one cannot imagine what happened next without
No doubt he shouted in a wild voice. Leaped from the divan in
his drawers. The slipper fell off from one of his bare feet. His
lips turned pale. His hands shake. His knees wobble. "What?!"
shouted he, in Persian. "Repeat what you just said! Ministers!
Arrest the hussy!"
At this point the ministers ran in, "Ah, ah! What is it? Calm
down, your majesty! . . . Look you dropped a slipper off your
feet; remember your royal dignity."
But, naturally, it isn't so easy to calm down when one's vanity
has borne such an immense affront.
27. And so, in the evening, after they had expeditiously
chopped off the poor Egyptian girl's head, Cambyses no doubt
sat long in council with his ministers.
Waving his hands about and all atremble, he paces nervously
up and down the room.
"No, who would have guessed the Egyptian pharaoh was that
kind of a bastard, eh?" he exclaims indignantly.
The ministers sigh deferentially, shake their heads and spread
out their hands, glancing at one another venomously.
"What should I do now, gentlemen, after an insult like that?
Should I go to war against that scoundrel, or what?"
"We can go to war, your majesty."
"Only, the dog, he's a long way off ... Egypt . . . Africa . . .
Takes almost a year to get there . . . Seems we'd have to go on
camels . . ."
"It's nothing, your majesty. The army will get there."
"I was nice to her," said Cambyses, upset all over again. "I
i^ook her in as an Egyptian princess, I loved her passionately, and
then it turns out that isn't what she is ... How about it, gentlemen?
What am I, a dog or what, not good enough for his daughter?
Sending a hussy like that . . . Eh?"
28. The minister of foreign affairs says, trying to keep from
laughing: "The important thing is, your majesty, that it's a world
scandal . . ."
"That's exactly it! ... I'm telling you it's a scandal. Aye,
what in the world am I going to do?"
"The important thing is, your majesty, that it won't go down
well in world history . . . That is, Persia . . . Cambyses . . .
condemned a girl to death . . ."
"Aye, what are you unsettling me for, you son of a bitch! . . .
Gather the army! . . . Go on campaign! . . . Conquer Egypt and
send it to the devil's mother! . . ."
In all, Cambyses personally led the army against Egypt and in
a short time conquered it. The very old and hapless Pharaoh
Amasis, however, died about that time. And his nephew Psamtik,
expecting nothing good would come of all this, put an end to him-
As far as the ill-fated princess is concerned, we have un-
fortunately found no clues in history concerning her fate . . .
A certain acquaintance of ours, who is a professor of history
and who lectures at the university, told me that Cambyses gave
away this Egyptian girl, as it were, into the harem of one of his
ministers. But to what extent this is true, we would not take it
upon ourselves to assert. But, naturally, it's possible. In all, love
had scattered like smoke. From which it is clear exactly how much
a pound of this emotion was worth.
29. So what does it signify? Does it signify that the matter is,
as it were, of no importance? Where, then, is that famous love
glorified by poets and singers? Where, then, is that passion which
has been sung in marvelous poems? Can it be that these nibbling
poets, these rhythm sewers and lovers of every beauty and grace,
have allowed such a disturbing exaggeration to slip by? So that,
reading history, we find no such experiences?
No, certainly, paging through history, we do find some. But
these are very few. We had wanted some kind of unique pearl
to glitter from every page. But, as it is, once in a century we
stumble on some kind of doubtful little love affair.
So here we have scraped together a few such love stories. But
to do this we have read through, and definitely with diligence, all
the history of various, if you'll excuse me, Ethiopians and
Chaldeans, and from the creation of the world right on up to our
And we've only managed to scrape up what you now see before
you. Here, for example, is a fairly powerful love, thanks to which
one daughter ran over her own papa in a chariot.
Here's how it happened.
30. The Roman emperor, Servius Tullius, had a daughter.
This daughter had a husband, a man of fairly doubtful reputation.
But, nevertheless, the daughter loved him exceedingly.
And here, this gentleman was thinking of knocking this
daughter's noble father, Servius Tullius, off the throne. Of course,
he was an old man, this Servius Tullius, and he had led some
unsuccessful wars against those, you can just imagine, Etruscans.
Nevertheless, to go knocking him off was too bad. All the more
so, since it wasn't necessary to kill him. This was already
But this energetic son-in-law, after having taken counsel with
the old man's daughter, decided to kill her papa anyway. And she,
for love of this cannibal, agreed.
And so this energetic son-in-law, having bribed a hired
murderer, pitilessly finishes off r the noble old man with a dagger
in the open square. And he drops, without a word. And the
people shout: "And who, gentlemen, is going to be our emperor
And, there, the daughter of this murdered father, instead of
weeping and falling all over her papa's corpse in grief, comes
dashing up in a chariot and, wishing to hail the new emperor
her husband with a shout of joy, runs over the corpse of her
only recently murdered father with the wheels.
The scene, though to a certain degree repulsive, nevertheless
has power. And the love of this imperial daughter comes across
rather strongly. For she must have been very much in love in
order to run over the old man at such a moment.
She stands in the chariot. She gives a whoop. Her hair has
come undone. Her puss goes all askew. "Hurrah!" she shouts to
the new emperor. And she drives across all that has fallen.
But in the crowd they cry out: "Look, that shameless wench
Wasn't even hesitated, it seems, to run over her own papa."
$, No, but anyway, this was love. And in part, probably, the wish
to rule in her own right. In all, it is not unknown.
3 1 . But here is an even more powerful love for you. One which
involved a certain historical lady in the sunset of her life.
The Russian empress, Catherine II, in her declining years, at
the age of about fifty-eight, fell madly in love with a certain
dashing young beau Platon Zubov. He was twenty-one years
old, and he really was a very attractive young man. Although, his
brother Valerian was even more attractive. Both their portraits
are in the Russian museum so it's really true: the brother was
of untold beauty.
But the old girl didn't see the brother till later, and so, not
knowing what was what, instantly fell in love with Platon. And
when she saw Valerian, she sighed and said: "Yes, this young
man could please me, too. But since I've already fallen in love
with Platon, so, if you please, I'll go on with it."
But Platon, seeing that Valerian made an irresistible impression
on the old girl, sent this brother of his off to war. And in the
war a cannon ball tore off the beau's leg. So that the old girl
devoted herself to Platon entirely and bestowed various amazing
favors upon him.
It would be interesting to know how their romance began. The
handsome young man probably felt terribly inhibited at first and
quailed when the elderly lady pressed down on him. Naturally
you'd quail. In any case, this is a sacred person, so to speak,
empress of all the Russians and so forth, and suddenly, devil take
it, a coarse business like this!
32. Let us imagine this romance.
"So, embrace me, little fool," said the empress.
"God almighty, I just don't dare, your majesty," muttered the
favorite. "I fear and honor, so to speak, the imperial dignity."
"Ah, forget it. Just call me Ekaterina Vasilievna." (Or what-
ever her patronymic was.)
And the boy, smiling unnaturally, respectfully touched the
aging shoulders of the empress. But then he got used to it, and
received for his love rather more than it was worth.
In all, by the time he was twenty-four, this beau was already
general in chief, viceroy of the region of New Russia, and com-
mander in chief of all the artillery.
The lady, no longer young, fell in love with him more and more
with every passing year, and scarcely knew how and with what
to keep him happy.
She permitted him to glance through all secret dispatches and
reports from abroad. All ministers and generals, before dropping
in on Catherine, had to pass through his hands.
The youth entertained ministers and courtiers, lying on a
couch in his silk Bokhara dressing gown. Elderly generals, trem-
bling respectfully, stood at attention before the young beauty.
The elderly empress, in love beyond measure, entrusted him
with all the most responsible state tasks. Love literally blinded her.
33. But all along, the lad had some very mixed-up notions
about life and politics. For example, his project for a New
Russia is well known.
In this amazing project the following are proudly indicated
as capitals of the first order: Petersburg, Astrakhan, Moscow,
and Constantinople. Among cities of the second order are in-
dicated, for some reason: Cracow, Taganrog, and Danzig. In this
project, there is the following phrase: "The sovereign empress of
so vast an empire should be likened to the sun, who, with his
beneficent gaze, warms everything that his rays can reach."
In all, one can judge from this project alone, how much the
old lady had begun to spit on affairs of state and the extent to
which world politics had faded in comparison with her last love.
But this instance shows us an aging human being in all her
pathetic beauty, rather than the happier qualities of love.
Here, however, is the story of a great love for you, one which
took place when the forces were in full flower.
34. This story is also fairly well known, having been per-
formed on theatrical stages. So we will not linger on it especially
long. This, you know, is the one about how the Roman consul,
Mark Antony, loved the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra. In all, let us
try to recall this story, all the more since it is a touching story
and at the same time extremely surprising. An ambitious man,
having achieved for himself, just imagine, immense power, fell
in love with a woman and threw it all decisively away. He even
threw away his army with which he had set out on conquest. And
he stuck forever in Egypt.
He gave Cleopatra Roman lands true, conquered by him
Armenia, Syria, Chilicia and Phoenicia; and lifted her to the
rank of "empress of emperors."
The Roman Senate, seeing the military commander's scandal-
ous activities, hastily removed Antony from the position of first
Consul. But the love-bound Antony did not even wish to return
Then Rome declared war on Cleopatra. And the famous strug-
gle between them began.
Antony, along with Cleopatra, marched out against the Roman
The Roman army approached Alexandria, and the Roman con-
sul Octavian wrote Cleopatra a letter to the effect that she could
still save her life and throne if she'd only sacrifice Antony.
35. The lady empress, seeing that her private affairs were of
little importance, decided to sacrifice her ardent lover.
And while Antony was engaged in the struggle with Octavian,
Cleopatra informed her lover by way of a servant that she had
taken her own life. She knew Antony was so in love with her that
he would not survive his grief. And that's really the way it was:
When he learned of Cleopatra's end, Antony ran himself through
with his sword.
As it turned out, though, the wound wasn't fatal. And Antony,
when he found out that Cleopatra was still alive, had himself
brought to her on a stretcher. And, in her embraces, he died,
having forgiven her for her deception.
This surprising story really tells of a fairly great love which
decisively eclipsed everything else.
And a little later, Cleopatra also put an end to herself.
For this reason: that Octavian was getting ready to send her
off to Rome as a trophy. Cleopatra had wanted to attract this
leader too, with her flirting, but nothing came of it, and then she,
not wanting to survive her shame, poisoned herself. And thirty
of her servant girls poisoned themselves along with her.
And for some reason we feel sorry for this beauty, to whom
Octavian said: "Put away thy net, O queen you won't catch me
in it." But she was already forty years old, and she understood
that her song had been sung.
36. But there is still one great love, in the course of which a
man forgot his revolutionary conscience.
This refers to the husband of the well-known Mme. Tallien.
At the time of the French Revolution the chief secretary of
the revolutionary council was sent to Bordeaux by Robespierre to
arrest the aristocrats who had run off there.
And, lo and behold, in the prison there, he made the acquaint-
ance of a young woman who had been arrested Teresa Fontenet.
He fell in love with her and let her out of the prison.
Robespierre, when he learned that Tallien had released a
prisoner, ordered her arrested again.
Then, Tallien, having joined forces with the partisans of
Danton, conducted such a struggle against Robespierre that in a
short time he was able to overthrow him. And one of the motives
for this struggle was undoubtedly his love for Teresa Fontenet.
Later, Tallien married her, but she soon threw him over and
married some kind of prince.
But this still isn't all that history knows.
Even beyond this, there have taken place from time to time
small events, at first glance little worthy of note, but nevertheless,
one can say, events that are literally like the sunlight breaking
through the thicket of the forest. This was great love.
37. * Take, for example, the wives of the Decembrists, brilliant
society ladies who gave up everything and voluntarily, though no
one had exiled them, followed their husbands to Siberia.
* The sick Radishchev had been sent off to exile. Not long
before this, his wife had died. Then his wife's sister followed him
into exile . . .
* The son of a rich landowner, the brilliant cavalry guard
officer Ivashov, loved the governess Camilla, who worked in his
family's house. His parents, naturally, refused to let him marry
her. But within a year when Ivashov was sent to Siberia for twenty
years in the affair of the Decembrists, the young governess
voluntarily followed him.
* The passionately loved wife of the English poet, Robert
Browning, died. Bewailing her terribly, the poet placed in her
grave the dearest thing he owned a notebook of his new sonnets.
True, later, when the poet fell in love again, he managed to
get this notebook back, but this is not so important.
* Napoleon, in the heat of battle, in 1796, wrote to Josephine:
"Away from you the world is a desert in which I wander alone.
You are the only thought of my whole life."
* Lassalle wrote to Elena Denniguez: "I have a giant's powers
and I multiply them by a thousand in order to conquer you. No
one in the world can take you away from me ... I suffer a thou-
sand times more than Prometheus on his rock."
38. Chernyshevski, in love with his own wife, wrote to
^Tekrasov: "It isn't for world problems that people hustle about,
shoot themselves, become drunkards. I have experienced it and
I know that the poetry of the heart has the same rights as the
poetry of thought."
* The city of Weinsberg was besieged by the enemy. The con-
querors permitted the women to leave the city before destroying
it. At the same time, they permitted each woman to carry off in
her own hands that which was most precious to her. And so,
several women carried their valiant husbands in their arms.
Naturally, this last event is more like a legend. From time to
time history loves to invent for the sake of, so to speak, moral
equilibrium, something sentimental like that.
39. From among these sentimental anecdotes, the following is
A certain knight, going off to battle, entrusted his wife to a
friend of his. The friend fell in love with the wife. The wife fell
in love with him. But the oath of loyalty, naturally, was in-
And so, in order to preserve and prove this loyalty, they sleep
in one bed, putting a double-edged sword between them.
Maybe they really did put this sword between them, and
maybe they really did sleep in one bed we will not deny this
historical fact but as far as the rest of the story is concerned,
you must excuse us, we are dubious.
In all, with this sentimental nonsense, we bring to a close our
This is what history tells of love.
In all, it tells very little of this emotion. That is to say, yes, this
emotion, it would seem, really exists. History, that is to say,
has had to deal with this emotion more than once. That is to
say, such-and-such historical events and incidents have taken
place on this soil. And such-and-such deeds and crimes have been
But that all this was just something too grandiose for words,
in the sense that our poets have sung of it in their tenor voices
well, in that degree, history scarcely knows it at all.
On the contrary, commercial spirits have almost entirely
straddled this emotion. And it does not represent any kind of
danger for the calm flow of history.
40. No, this emotion has not hindered people from proceeding
along the road along which patiently and in good conscience they
And the historians are right to be telling us in monotonous
voices about what happened and about how many lumps of soot
a bridegroom received in return for this or that feeling of his.
Well, of course, we have been talking of past centuries. And
perhaps things have changed a bit nowadays?
Unfortunately, we have never been abroad, and therefore we
are not in a position to satisfy fully your legitimate curiosity.
But we are of the opinion that it isn't likely great changes
In all likelihood, or so we think, some marquis or other, with
his sonorous name, still shows up as the bridegroom of a three-
year-old. And papa pays him a monthly allowance.
And, in all likelihood, some sort of aging person, having for-
gotten everything in fhe world, still supports some kind of dancing
Zubov and lavishes her favors upon him.
Everything, one must assume, goes as it once went.
And as far as we are concerned, well, some substantial changes
have come to pass here.
ON PUSHKIN'S ANNIVERSARY
FIRST SPEECH ON PUSHKIN
It is with a feeling of pride, I would like to note, that in these
days our house is not being braided into the tail end of events.
In the first place, we have acquired for six rubles fifty kopecks
a single-volume edition of Pushkin for general use. In the second
place, a plaster bust of the great poet has been placed in the
office of the Tenant's Co-operative Association, which in its turn
serves to remind those who don't pay their rent on time of their
In addition to this, we have hung an artistic portrait of Pushkin
before the main entrance.
And finally, this meeting speaks for itself.
Certainly, perhaps it's little, but speaking frankly, our Co-op
Association didn't expect there'd be such a bustle. We thought,
well, as usual, they will note in the press: there you are, poet of
genius, lived in the stern epoch of Nicholas I; well, on the stage,
there they'd start some artistic reading excerpts, or they'd sing
something from Eugene Onegin.
But what is happening in our days frankly speaking, it obliges
our Co-op to be careful and to re-examine its position in the realm
of creative literature, so we won't be accused of not appreciating
poems and so forth.
Still, you know, it is well that in the sense of the poets, as it is
said, God has blessed our house. It is true we have one tenant,
Tsaplin, who writes verses, but in addition he's a bookkeeper,
and, to top it all off, he's such a lout, I don't mind saying, I'm not
even sure whether I should be mentioning him on Pushkin's
anniversary. The other day he comes into the Co-op and he's
theatening: "I," he yells, "will bury you, you long-tailed devil,
if you don't move my stove for me before Pushkin's anniversary.
I," he says, "am stifling from the fumes because of that damn stove
and I can't write poems." I say: "Even taking into account how
delicate relationships with poets are, I can't have your stove
moved for you in the time specified because our mechanic has
taken off." So that's why he's yelling. Hauled off after me.
Praise be, that among our tenants there aren't still more cadres
of writers and such like, you know. If there were, they'd be
nagging about stoves like this Tsaplin.
Well, so what if he can write verses. In that case, I, too, and
my seven-year-old nephew can bring some pretensions to bear
on the Co-op. At my place, he writes too. And some of his verses
aren't at all bad:
We children like the time when the bird is in the cage;
But we don't like those folk who against the Five-Year-Plan rage.
Seven years old he is, and look how he writes! But still that
doesn't mean I want to compare him with Pushkin. Pushkin is
one thing, and the stifling tenant Tsaplin is another. A scoundrel
like that! You see, my wife is coming in, and he's after me. "I," he
yells, "am going to stick your head into my stove right this
moment." Well what is this, I ask you?! Here the Pushkin an-
niversary is approaching, and he's setting my nerves on edge like
Pushkin writes so that his every line is beyond perfection. For
a tenant of genius like that, we would move his stove even in the
fall. But here we're supposed to be moving it for this Tsaplin
at this, I am thunderstruck.
A hundred years have passed and still Pushkin's verses call
forth our astonishment. But, if you'll excuse me, where will
Tsaplin be a hundred years from now? Such a rascal! ... Or if
this Tsaplin had been alive a hundred years ago? I can imagine
what he would have been like in those days and in what form he
would have come down to the present!
Speaking frankly, I would have been a Dantfes to this Tsaplin,
and I'd have drilled him full of lead. My second would have said:
"Shoot at him once" But I would have let go with all five bullets,
because I don't like scoundrels.
Great poets of genius die before their time, but this scoundrel
Tsaplin remains, and he's still around to wear out our nerves.
However, it is fitting that we move his stove, so that a hundred
.years from now they will not reproach us with lack of sympathy
SECOND SPEECH ON PUSHKIN
Of course, dear comrades, I am not a historian of literature.
I permit myself to approach this great occasion, simply, as it is
said, in a human sense.
Such a clean-breasted approach, I submit, brings the image of
the great poet closer to us.
And, so, a hundred years separate us from him! Time really
flies incredibly swiftly!
The German war, as is well known, began twenty-three years
ago. That is, from the time it began to Pushkin's time was not a
hundred years, but in all only seventy-seven.
And I was born, imagine, in 1879. That means I was even
closer to the great poet. Not that I could see him, but, as it is said,
there were but forty years in all between us.
My grandmother now, still more clearly, was born in 1836.
That is, Pushkin could have seen her and even taken her up in
his arms. He might have cooed over her and, what's more, she
might have wept in his arms, not realizing who it was that was
Of course, it isn't likely that Pushkin cooed over her, all the
more since she lived in Kaluga, and Pushkin, it seems, never lived
there; but one can still permit oneself this rousing possibility, the
more so, it seems, since he might very well have taken a trip to
Kaluga to see some friends there.
My father, on the other hand, was born in 1850. But Pushkin
by that time, alas, was no longer, or else he might even have
cooed over my father.
But my great-grandmother now, he might really and truly have
taken up in his arms. Just imagine, she was born in 1763, so that
the great poet could easily have gone to her parents and demanded
that they let him hold her and coo over her . . . Although, on
the other hand, by 1837 she was, if you like, sixty years old and
a little over, so that, frankly speaking, I don't really know how
they went about it and how they managed to arrange things . . .
It could be that it was she who cooed over him . . . But that
which is for us covered by the darkness of the unknown, probably
posed no difficulty for them, and they got along beautifully as far
as who cooed over whom and who rocked whom is concerned.
And if she really was an old woman of sixty at that time, then,
of course, it's absurd even to think that someone was cooing over
her. It means rather that she herself was doing the cooing over
And, perhaps, cradling him and singing him lyric songs, she,
unaware of it herself, aroused poetic feelings in him and, perhaps,
along with his famous nurse Anna Radionovna, inspired him in
the composition of several different poems.
As far as Gogol and Turgenev are concerned, practically all of
my relatives might have cooed over them, since still less time
separated them from these. In general, I will say this: children
the ornament of our life, and a happy childhood this, as it is
said, is a great and by no means unimportant problem, which has
been resolved in our days. Kindergartens, nurseries, waiting
rooms for mothers and children in our railroad stations these
are worthy tokens of one and the same enterprise . . . Ah, yes,
now what was I talking about? Och about Pushkin. Well, now,
I'll tell you Pushkin ... A century to commemorate. And, soon,
you see, other glorious jubilees will take place Turgenev,
Lermontov, Tolstoi, Maikov, and so forth and so forth. Time
will come for spiels on them, too. And this is right, if they've
Of course, we will not be lingering on the biographical facts of
the poet's life: it's well known to all. It isn't a secret that the poet
had a seven-room apartment, a coach, a footman, two maids.
Moreover, they paid for his verses by the line in chervontsi. And
they republished them regularly. And Nicholas I, seeing all this,
got angry and jealous.
This complicated the poet's life at court, the more so, since,
just among ourselves, Tamara, of course, betrayed him . . . No,
I mean, it seems Pushkin's was Natalia, not Tamara . . . Why,
yes, Natalia. That was Lermontov's Tamara . . . But, you know,
I usually get them mixed up ... Pushkin and Lermontov for me
they are, as it were, a single whole. And that's why I don't make
distinctions as to which was which. All the more since they are
both poets of genius. And both, in our days, enjoy the singular
attention of society.
In general, just among ourselves, at some other time you might
A ,ven be surprised why there should be such an extraordinary
ittitude to poets. As to singers, for example, well, I wouldn't
jay that our attitude is bad exactly, but they simply aren't regarded
in the same way as poets.
But they too, as it is said, are talents. And they too catch hold
of the spirit. And they touch our emotions. And so on ...
Moreover, several of our singers perform at charity concerts
without pay. And all the same, as it is said, they contribute a
mighty bit to the matter of developing the arts, the influence of
which on society is immense and indubitable . . .
Now what was I talking about? . . . Ah, yes about Pushkin.
Well, now, so I'll tell you: the influence of Pushkin on us is im-
mense and indubitable. This was a great poet of genius. And it
is fitting to grieve that he does not now live among us. We would
carry him in our arms and we would arrange a fabulous life for
the poet, if, of course, we knew that from him would emerge
Pushkin. As it happens, we contemporaries are hoping for our
own, we arrange an excellent life for them, give automobiles and
apartments, and then it turns out that this one isn't Pushkin, nor
that one either. You can't, as it is said, get blood from a stone . . .
In general, it's a dark profession, God alone knows what they're
up to. Somehow singers give more pleasure. They sing, and right
away it's obvious what kind of voice they have.
And so, concluding my speech on the poet of genius, I would
like to remark that, after the refreshments, there will be an
(Loud applause. All rise and move to the buffet.)
HOUSES AND PEOPLE
I've decided to write a little pamphlet about those buildings
which are now being raised for our habitation.
In any case, people spend a large part of their life at home.
And even if it were for this reason alone, it would be permissible
to focus society's attention on such a problem of no little im-
I will tell briefly of that house in which I, as it is said, have the
good fortune to live.
The house in which I now live is a very solid contemporary
house of recent construction.
In the architectural sense, it is a very attractive building. It
was built enthusiastically and not without spirit.
Every apartment has a balcony. The windows are wide. And
the sun pours in a mighty flow, without difficulty, into the tiny
comfortable little apartments. Everywhere there are bathtubs,
dustbins. The staircase is quite appealing, but, unfortunately, a
little narrow. So that pianos have had to be lifted up through the
windows, a fact which has, in its turn, undoubtedly led to a slight
lowering of the level of musical culture.
A composer of ours who had taken an apartment on the fifth
floor suffered unspeakably when the object of his creative en-
deavor was stretched on the tightrope.
And really it was somehow unnatural. The more so since there
was an awful lot of yelling when they began to put his musical
instrument on the block. A groan went up, especially when they
began to shove it through the window from outside. I tell you,
that was a musical moment.
But the process ended successfully, which in any case does
honor to the architect who was conscious of the fact that small
windows would be a deathblow to composers.
One way or another, the piano was successfully installed in the
dwelling. And the composer at once began to pound on it, so that
the tenants on the fourth floor ran off at a gallop to complain to
the house manager, since it seems that the sound carried rather
No, these fourth-floor tenants were unmusical people. You
might think the sounds of a piano would hearten them. They
were listening to music! Now I, for example, can distinctly hear
the kitten sneeze in my neighbor's room. And I don't go running
around complaining about these sounds. Because I understand
very well why it sneezes. It's because our window frames are
askew, the doors are crooked, there's a draft from all the cracks
in the parquet floor. So the animal has caught a cold, and it's
Toward spring, when the weather gets a little warmer, it will
But these are trifles, nonsense. Not on these apartment-house
bagatelles was the main attention of the architect concentrated.
One must assume that his main task was to shape a building as
beautiful as possible.
Well, in an artistic sense, too, our house is miraculously shaped.
There are various stucco moldings: garlands, little circles. And
somehow this soothes the gaze.
Under the garlands, the heads of horses are molded. And it's
attractive to look at them, again and again.
To top it all off, beginning at the third floor and extending
upward, two columns stand, for some reason, and, as the saying
goes, to eat they don't ask.
Properly speaking, these two columns, as it were, might have
no reason for being there. Because in any case the function of
columns is to support something somewhere. But these columns,
in a way, as it were, are not even supporting anything. And if you
go into it at all, it turns out that the house is even supporting them.
But even that is to the good, that the house is supporting them. In
any case, the art of antiquity does not collapse.
And, if it did, such a mass of brick would collapse with it, that
I thank you for Greek architecture.
But it's already the third year now that everything is going
splendidly, and this is yet another indication of how staunchly the
Hellenic art is maintained among us.
Our courtyard has considerable originality of structure. It, too,
if you will, is on an ancient model. But there's already something
of a Roman feeling here. In part it recalls the Roman baths or the
small inner courtyards of Pompeii for domestic needs.
The small measure of the courtyard did not, however, hinder
the architect in his striving to endow it with something extraordi-
nary. In the middle of the yard, there is a large fountain. There is
a pond of sorts, and, in the center, a plaster feminine figure with
a jug. And on this it is fairly entertaining to look when you
tiptoe lightly out the door in the evening.
No, in an artistic sense, our architect mobilized all his forces
to the maximum. He might even have tried a little less. If you stop
to think, the people who decorate these houses are bringing to
them a new way of life.
Generally, if you're speaking about architecture, it's a big
minus when, while they're putting up modern buildings, our
architects are for some reason thinking about ancient Greece. It's
a good thing it's not Egypt yet!
No, I repeat, I am not against columns that are supporting
something there. But somehow it goes against my grain when it's
the other way round.
An inhabitant of the village F., a certain comrade Lebedev,
was thinking of having his child baptized.
Before this time, he had somehow been against religion. He
didn't go to church. He had nothing to do with church activities.
And even to the contrary having advanced views, he had even
belonged at one time to the atheists' club.
But in this season a daughter was born unto him. And so he
was thinking of having her baptized.
Closer to the truth, it was his wife, that mother of little spirit,
who put him up to this. And it wasn't even his wife, as much as
her shortsighted parents, who set the tone for the whole thing.
Inasmuch as they began to nag: "Och, you see, it's not nice if
you don't baptize her, you see, suddenly she'll grow up, or, on
the contrary, she will die and she'll be unbaptized and what then?"
Well, the frivolous conversations of politically backward
But Lebedev surprisingly did not want to baptize his daughter.
Nevertheless, when they went at him, his spirit shook. And since
the man had inner conflicts, he gave his consent. He put it this
way to them: "Okay. Baptize her. Only I don't want there should
be such a fuss about this problem. I am absolutely free to dispose
of my own world outlook. If I want, I baptize; if I don't want,
I don't baptize. But such conversations are being started here:
talk, talk, talk. You see, I've baptized a dog's nose, turned back,
you see, to the services of the church. You see, they'll say, it's not
for nothing his father worked in bygone days for a house owner
as senior gatekeeper."
At this, his wife said to him that if he himself weren't dragging
around so about this matter of baptizing his daughter, then there'd
be no fuss at all about this problem.
And so, the parents arranged things with the priest, for him
to baptize their daughter. And for a five-ruble note that worthy
one took upon himself to do this and designated a day and an
hour for them.
And, meanwhile, the parents registered their child in the Regis-
tration Bureau under the name of Rose, received a certificate,
and on the appointed day appeared in church for the baptism.
On that particular day they were baptizing another child there.
And our friends, waiting their turn, stood and watched how it
And Lebedev, being himself of an antireligious orientation and
having, so to speak, a critical view of all that pertained to the
church, simply could not remain silent And all the time he kept
needling the priest with his biting remarks.
No matter what the priest does, Lebedev snickers mockingly,
and says to him, practically at his elbow: "Well, that's laying it
on a bit thick," he says ... or, "Well, what will they think of
next? . . ." Or, glancing at the priest's reddish foliage, he sud-
denly says: "There wasn't a single redhead among the saints . . .
But this one's got red hair."
This latter remark evoked laughter among the relatives. So
that the priest even interrupted the baptism for a moment and
scowled angrily at everyone.
And when he took up the Lebedev infant, Lebedev partly lost
his sense of measure and openly began to chisel away at the priest
with his mocking remarks.
And he even said: "Now, look, whiskers, see to it my kid
doesn't catch cold, thanks to your baptism. I'll scorch your temple
for you if she does."
The priest's hands were even trembling when he heard this.
He said to Lebedev: "Listen, I don't understand you. If you
came here to bait me, I'm surprised at you. Have you considered
within you what you are doing? At the very moment when I'm
holding your daughter in my arms, instead of purifying prayer,
anger against you rises in my spirit and bad language, and what
kind of a send-off will I give your daughter into life? Why, maybe
now her whole life will wither, or maybe she will be struck deaf
Lebedev says: "Well, if you go corrupting my daughter on me,
Til tear your hide off you, just keep that in mind."
The priest says: "You know what? Better wrap your whelp up
in the blanket and get out of the temple. And I'll give you back
your five-spot and we'll part on good terms. Better that, than I
should be hearing such squalor."
Here his relatives began to check Lebedev: "You see, really,
button your lip; you see, you should wait till you get out of the
temple before you let yourself go; you see, don't lead the priest
on, or he'll drop your daughter on the floor, if that's what you
want. Look, his hands are shaking and his knees are bending."
And so, although inner conflicts tore at Lebedev, he restrained
himself and did not answer the priest in kind. He only said to
him: "Well, okay, okay. I won't any more. Get on with the bap-
At this point the priest began to pronounce the words of the
ceremony. Then he turned to Lebedev and said: "What name
shall I pronounce? What did you call your daughter?"
Lebedev says: "We called her Rose."
The priest says: "So that's it! Ah, how much trouble you've
given me with your visit. It isn't enough that you baited me. Now
it's explained to me that you've given your infant a name like that.
Rose why, that's a Jewish name. And I refuse to baptize her
with a name like that. Wrap her up in the blanket and take your-
self out of the temple."
Lebedev, who'd lost all control of himself, says: "Now that's
better yet. First he threatens the child with withering, then he
ups and refuses to baptize her. But this name is from the word
'rose' that means it's a plant, a flower. It's another thing, for
example, Rosalie Semenovna she's the cashier from the co-
operative. There I won't argue: it's a Jewish name. But here you
can't refuse to baptize my child that way."
The priest says: "Wrap your child in the blanket. I won't
baptize her at all. Among the saints I don't find any such name."
The relatives say to the priest: "Listen, we've registered her in
the Registration Bureau under that name. What in the name of
God are you making trouble about?"
Lebedev says: "I told you so. There's a priest for you. He
goes against the Registration Bureau. And now it's clear to all
what kind of a lousy political world outlook he has."
The priest, seeing that the relatives won't leave and won't take
the child away, began to disrobe himself. He took off his brocaded
gown. And here they all saw that he's now going around in
trousers and high boots. And in this sacrilegious mode he goes
up to the images and snuffs the candles. And he wants to spill
the water out of the font.
But in the temple, among others, there was a certain person
who had just arrived. This person had been in the neighborhood
on business for the co-operative. And now it so happened that,
just for something to do, he wandered into the church, just to see
what was going on and how things were there these days.
And now this person took to speech, and he says: "I'm against
these ceremonies, understand, and I'm even surprised at the dark-
ness of the local inhabitants, but since the child's already wrapped
up and his parents are burning with the desire to christen her,
then you just have to go through with it, no matter what. And
in order to get you out of the position you're in, I would suggest
calling your child by a double name. For example, you call her
Rose; why not just add Marie. So instead you'll have Rose-Marie.
And there's even an operetta by that name, which indicates that
it exists in Europe."/
The priest says: "Among the saints I don't find any double
names. And I'm even surprised that you're trying to lead me
astray with this. If you like, I will call her Marie. But Rose I
wouldn't even think of pronouncing it."
Lebedev says: "Well, devil take him. Let him call her Marie
then. We'll adjust it later."
The priest put on his robe again and rapidly, in the course of
five minutes, went through the whole church operation.
Lebedev conversed with the visiting person and thanked him
for seeing to it that the priest's activities did not go unremarked.
So that everything blew over quite pleasantly.
But Lebedev's hopes that there might not be a fuss around this
problem turned out to be unjustified. As you see, this story even
broke into print. And not in vain. Don't go to churches if your
world outlook tells you no. But if it should be you've already
entered the temple behave yourself, and don't bait the priest
with stupid remarks.
THE STORY OF MY ILLNESS
In the spring of '38, the magazine Krokodil suggested I write
an article on certain defects of our regional hospitals.
By way of material they presented me with a couple dozen
letters from readers which had been received by that journal and
by the staffs of the Moscow newspapers.
The task of writing this article could be carried out in two
ways: either write the usual journalistic article, listing the names
and addresses of the guilty administrators, or a comic sketch.
I chose the second way. Before the reader is an imaginary
regional hospital, where, in the context of caricature, the au-
thentic defects enumerated in the readers' letters are strewn.
Such a way of carrying out the task will achieve its goal in no
less a degree than a concrete list of names and addresses. Further
investigation has shown that many of the defects depicted in our
comic sketch have been opportunely corrected.
Some of the shortcomings of the hospitals have, however, re-
mained to this day.
Frankly speaking, I prefer to be ill at home.
Oh, I wouldn't say that it isn't brighter in the hospital and
more cultivated. And perhaps they do watch the calories of your
diet more closely. But you know how the saying goes: "Be it ever
so humble, there's no place like home."
But they took me to the hospital with typhoid fever. The
people at home thought that in this way they'd lighten my un-
Only they did not achieve their goal, inasmuch as I got stuck
into some kind of special hospital, where everything did not en-
tirely please me.
In any case, they carted off the sick man, they are writing his
name down in a book, when suddenly he reads a sign on the
wall: "Corpses Distributed from 3 to 4."
I don't know how other patients felt about it, but I jumped
right back on my feet when I read that sign. The important thing
is: I have a high temperature, and, in all, it may be that life is
just barely managing to keep itself warm in my organism, and
maybe it's hanging by a hair and suddenly I happen to read a
sign like that.
I said to the man who was registering me: "Why," I say, "com-
rade orderly, do you go around hanging up such vulgar signs?
In any case," I say, "patients don't find it attractive to read such
The orderly, or intern or whatever he was, was surprised to
hear me speak to him like that, and he says: "Look: a patient, he
can hardly walk, his fever's so high, steam is practically coming
out of his mouth, and still," he says, "he's going around making
criticisms. If," he says, "you get better, then you'll have a chance
to criticize. And if not, we'll distribute you from three to four,
as the sign says, and then you'll know what it's all about."
I wanted to lash out at this orderly, but inasmuch as I had a
high temperature, 103.8, 1 didn't pick a fight with him. I only said
to him: "As you please, you enema pipe, I'll get better, so you'll
answer to me for your loutishness. Is it proper," I say, "for a
patient to hear such speeches? This," I say, "morally undermines
The orderly was surprised that a patient who was so sick has
it out with him so freely, and at once he changed the subject.
And at this moment a nurse came running up.
"Come along, patient," she says, "to the washtub."
These words also made me flinch.
"It would be better," I say, "if you didn't call it a washtub,
but a bath. This," I say, "is prettier, and makes the patient feel
better. And I," I say, "am not a horse that they should be wash-
ing me up."
The sister of mercy says: "Why should a patient," she says,
"notice all these trifling details? It's likely," she says, "that you
won't get better if your nose pricks up at everything."
At this point, she led me to the bath and ordered me to un-
dress . . .
And so I began to undress, and suddenly I see in the bath under
the water some kind of head is emerging. And suddenly I see
that there is, as it were, an elderly woman sitting in the bath, in
mil likelihood one of the patients.
I say to the nurse: "Where have you taken me, you dogs, to
the ladies' bath? Someone is already swimming around here," I
The nurse says: "Why, there's a sick old woman sitting here.
Don't pay any attention to her. She has a high temperature and
doesn't react to anything. So don't you worry, and just go ahead
and undress. And in time we'll haul the old woman out of the
bath and fill it up with fresh water for you."
I say: "The old woman doesn't react, but maybe / still react.
And it's pretty unpleasant for me to watch somebody splashing
around in the bath like that."
Suddenly, the intern shows up again.
"I am seeing such a squeamish patient for the first time," he
says. "This doesn't please him and that isn't good enough for him.
A dying old woman is splashing around a bit, and he's expressing
pretensions. And her temperature's maybe 104 degrees, and she's
in no position to take anything into account; everything she sees,
she sees as through a sieve. And in any case she wouldn't bear
the sight of you in this world for a superfluous five minutes. No,"
he says, "I much prefer patients who come to us unconscious.
Then at least everything is to their taste, they are satisfied with
everything, and they don't go around presenting us with scientific
At this point, the splashing old woman raises her voice: "Take
me," she says, "out of the water. Or," she says, "I'll get out myself
and steam all of you up."
At this point they carted off the old woman and ordered me to
And while I was undressing, they swiftly let in hot water and
ordered me to get in.
And knowing my character, they no longer tried to argue with
me but kept saying "yes, yes, yes" to everything. Only after
bathing they gave me an immense nightgown, not at all my size.
I thought they were deliberately trying to palm this outfit off
on me, but then I saw that this was a normal occurrence with
them. The little patients as a rule were in large nightshirts, and
the big ones in little nightshirts.
And my outfit even seemed a little better than the others. On
my nightshirt the "Patient" stamp was on the sleeve and didn't
spoil the over-all appearance, but on some patients the stamp was
on the back, and on others on the chest, and this was morally
degrading to human self-respect.
But, inasmuch as my temperature was going steadily up, I
didn't stop to argue about these things.
But they put me in a small ward, where about thirty patients
of various kinds were lying. Some, from the look of them, were
very ill. But some, on the contrary, were getting better. Some were
whistling. Others were playing chess. Still others wandered about
the wards and were reading the charts at the head of the beds.
I raised a shout so the chief doctor would come, but, instead,
this very same intern showed up again. But I was in a weakened
condition. At the sight of him, I finally lost consciousness.
I think, in all likelihood, it was about three days before I came
The nurse says ta me: "Well," she says, "you certainly have
nine lives. You," she says, "have been through all kinds of ex-
periences. We even put you near an open window accidentally,
and then you started to get better unexpectedly. And now," she
says, "if you don't catch anything from your neighbors," she
says, "we can sincerely congratulate you on your recovery."
Nevertheless, my organism was not subjected to any other ill-
nesses, and it was only just before I left that I came down with
a children's disease whooping cough.
The nurse says: "You must have gotten this infection from the
neighboring wing. That's our children's section. And in all likeli-
hood you incautiously ate off the same tray that a child with
whooping cough had been eating off. That's why you came down
All in all, the organism mended itself, and once again I began
to get better.
Soon I was better. Within a month I signed out. And now when
I get sick, it's at home.
A HAPPY GAME
Not long ago, I was eating in a restaurant and afterwards I
looked into the billiard room. I wanted, as the saying goes, to see
how the balls were clicking there.
No words an interesting game. It's absorbing and distracts
man from his sufferings. There are some who even find that the
game of billiards develops manhood, sharp-sightedness, and ag-
gressiveness. And doctors maintain that this game is a very useful
corrective for touchy men.
I don't know. I don't think so. I once knew a touchy man who
got so tanked up on beer while playing billiards that after the
game he could scarcely slide home. So I doubt that it's much of
a corrective for the nervous and distraught.
And whether it reinforces sharp-sightedness how is one to
tell? There was a fellow from our house his partner was taking
aim and banged him in the eye with the cue. Although he didn't
go blind, he did slightly lose the sight of one eye. That much for
the development of sharp-sightedness. And if they manage to get
to his other eye, now, the man will be entirely deprived of sharp-
So as far as usefulness is concerned, as the saying goes, it's
an old wives' tale.
But, certainly, the game is entertaining. Especially when they
play "for stakes" it's quite diverting to watch.
Of course, they rarely play for money now. But they think up
something original instead. Some arrange it so that the loser has
to squat under the billiard table. Others arrange it so he has to
treat, with a couple of beers. Or he has to pay for the game.
But when I entered the billiard room this time, I saw a very
One winner had ordered his mustachioed partner to crawl
under the billiard table with all the billiard balls. He crammed
the balls into his pockets, gave him a ball to hold in each hand,
and, to top it all off, shoved one ball under his chin. And in this
manner, the loser crawled under the billiard table amidst the
laughter of all.
After another round the winner again loaded the mustachioed
one with balls, and, to top it off, ordered him to take the cue in
And that poor bastard had to crawl again, amidst the Homeric
laughter of those assembled.
By the next round they didn't know what to think of next.
The mustachioed one says: "Make it something a little easier.
You've exhausted me."
And his mustaches really were hanging down: that's how
bushed he was.
The winner says: "Why, thanks to these punishments, you fool,
I'm teaching you to play a splendid game of billiards."
The winner had a friend of his with him. This one says: "I've
got it. If he loses, let's do it this way: let him crawl under the
table, loaded with billiard balls, and we'll tie a cask of beer to
his foot, to top it off. Let him crawl under like that."
The winner says, laughing: "Bravo! That's the way!"
The mustachioed one says in an offended tone: "If the cask
is going to be full of beer, then I won't play. It'll be tough enough
crawling with an empty cask."
In all, he lost again. And here, amidst general laughter, they
loaded the mustachioed one up with billiard balls again, put the
cue in his teeth, and tied a cask to his foot. To top it off, the
winner's friend began to pull the mustachioed one by the cue so
that he'd proceed more rapidly on his route of march under the
The winner was laughing so hard he collapsed on a chair and
gasped from lack of breath.
The mustachioed one crawled out from under the table, no
longer himself. He stared dully at all the assembled, and for some
time he didn't even move. Then he unloaded the billiard balls
from his pockets and began to untie the cask of beer from his
feet, saying that he wasn't going to play any more.
The winner was laughing so hard, tears were rolling down his
cheeks. He said: "Come on now, Egorov, golubchik, let's play
another round. I've thought up another entertaining bit."
This one says: "Well, what did you think up now?"
Stifling with laughter, the winner says: "Come on, Egorov,
iJet's play for your mustache. For a long time now I haven't gone
for that fluff. If I win, I cut off your mustache. All right?"
The mustachioed one says: "No, for the mustache I won't play.
Or else give me a forty-point lead."
In all, he lost again. And no one managed to remember how
the winner seized a table knife and began to remove the fluffy
mustache from his ill-fated partner.
In the room, they were dying of laughter.
Suddenly, one of those present goes up to the winner and says
to him, like this: "It's likely your partner is a fool, agreeing to
penalties like that. And you go and take advantage of this and
mock a man in a public place."
A friend of the loser says: "What the hell business is it of
yours? He agreed to it of his own free will."
The winner says to his partner in a sepulchral voice: "Egorov,
come here. Answer to the group. Did you agree of your own free
will to these penalties or did you not?"
His partner, hanging on to the half-cut mustache with his hand,
says: "Of my own free will, if s well known, Ivan Borisovich."
The winner says, turning to the public: "Somebody else might
let his chauffeur wait in the cold for three hours. But I deal
humanely with people. This is our institution's chauffeur, and I
always bring him in where it's warm. I don't treat him at all
snootily I play billiards with him in comradely fashion. I in-
struct him and punish him only a little. And now they're re-
proaching me I really don't get it."
The chauffeur says: "Maybe there's a barber in the audience.
If so, I'd appreciate it if he'd trim my mustache."
A man emerges from the crowd and says, taking a scissors out
of his pocket: "I am sincerely delighted to trim your mustache.
If you wish, I can fix it like Charlie Chaplin's."
While the barber was working on the chauffeur, I approached
the winner and said to him: "I didn't know he was your chauffeur.
I thought he was a friend of yours. I wouldn't have let you pull
The winner, somewhat taken aback, says: "And what kind of
a bird are you?"
I say: "I'm going to write an article about you."
The winner, getting scared, says: "I won't tell you my name."
I say: "I'll only describe the facts and add that this was a
square-shaped reddish-haired man called Ivan Borisovich. Of
course, you may get away with this little trick of yours, but if
you do get away with it, at least let your rotten soul tremble be-
fore the printed lines.''
The winner's friend, when he heard this business about the
article, right away took to his heels and disappeared from the
The winner swaggered around for a long time and drank beer,
shouting that he spat on everyone.
The chauffeur had his mustache trimmed and began to look a
bit younger and handsomer. So I even decided to write a sketch of
not too ferocious a character.
And when I got home, as you see, I wrote it. And now you are
reading it, and it's likely you're surprised that such passionate
gamblers exist and that one sometimes comes across such un-
appealing redheaded men.
A LAST UNPLEASANTNESS
This time, allow me to tell of a dramatic episode in the lives
of people who are now dead.
And because this is all fact, we will not permit ourselves in
our exposition to let too much laughter or too many jokes in, so
as not to offend those still left among the living.
But inasmuch as this story is, to a certain degree, a comic one,
and laughter, as the saying goes, may rise up of itself, we wish
to beg the reader's pardon to begin with, for any involuntary
tactlessness in regard to the living or the dead.
Of course, the fact in itself in its original sense has nothing
of the comic about it. On the contrary, a man died, a certain un-
important worker, an individual not at all noteworthy in the
brilliance of our days.
And, as often happens, after his death some intense conver-
sations began: "You see, he perished at his post." "Ah, whom
have we lost?" "There was a man for you." "What a pity we've
been deprived of him."
Well it's completely and absolutely clear that during his life-
time no one said such unique things about him, and he himself,
so to speak, had set out on the long journey without suspecting
the image that would be made of him in the fantasy of his
Of course, if he hadn't died, it still wouldn't be known how
this fantasy came about. Most likely these very same persons
would have, as the saying goes, taken him for a toboggan ride.
But inasmuch as he had meekly died, they attributed him with
something close to divinity.
On the one hand, friends, it's nice to die; on the other hand
merci 9 better not. We'll manage to get along somehow without
your emotional gratitude.
Speaking briefly, a discussion took place in the hours after
work in the institution where he had labored, and in this discus-
sion various touching episodes from the life of the deceased were
Then the manager himself took up the word. And under the
impetus of the oratorical art he worked himself up to such a
frenzy that he easily burst into tears. And after bursting into tears,
he praised the deceased beyond all measure.
At this point, passions become decisively overheated. And
everyone competed in trying to show that he had lost a true friend,
a son, a brother, a father, and a teacher.
From amidst the general hubbub, one shout broke through
decisively, to the effect that they should arrange the most ardent
possible funeral, so that other employees might also strive in this
direction. And, seeing this, they might straighten themselves out
a bit and try to earn for themselves a funeral like this one.
They all said: "That's right." And the manager added: "Let the
union post it on the bulletin board the funeral will be conducted
at treasury expense."
Then someone else got up and said that such remarkable
people, generally speaking, had to be buried to music, and not
carried silently along empty streets.
At this point, tears rolling down his face, a relative of the
deceased rises from his place, his blood nephew, a certain
Kolesnikov. He speaks as follows: "My God, how many years
was it I lived in the same aparttnent with my uncle! I won't say
that we cursed each other out often, but anyway our life didn't
always go smoothly since I didn't realize the kind of man my
uncle was. But now, when you tell me about all this, your every
word falls on my heart like white-hot metal. Ah, why didn't I
make life comfortable for my uncle! Now this will torment me
all the rest of my life.
"No, I won't be too lazy now to take off for a certain place I
know, where there's a big band with six brasses and one drum.
And we'll invite this band to play something special for my
They all said: "That's right, invite this band this will in part
make amends for your boorish behavior in regard to your uncle."
Speaking briefly, a funeral was arranged within two days.
There were many wreaths and a mass of people. The musicians
really played not at all badly and attracted the attention of
passers-by who asked now and then: "Who's being buried?"
On the way, this uncle's nephew himself quietly approached
|he manager and said to him quietly, like this: "I invited this
band, but they insisted on one condition they be paid immedi-
ately after the funeral, since they have to leave right away for a
guest performance in Staraya Russa. How are we going to man-
age to pay them without a special squeeze?"
The manager says: "But weren't you going to pay for the
The nephew was surprised and even frightened. He says: "You
said yourself that the funeral was at treasury expense. / just ran
to ask the band!"
"Be that as it may, the band wasn't taken into account. Cor-
rectly speaking, the man who died was a small, insignificant per-
son, and all of a sudden, willy-nilly, we've asked a band to play
for him! No, I can't go along with it the union would put me
on the spot."
Those who were walking along beside the manager also said:
"In the final analysis, an institution cannot pay for each of its
deceased workers. You should be grateful that we paid for the
hearse and all the funeral doings. As for the band, pay yourself,
since it was your uncle."
The nephew says: "Are you nuts or something? Where am /
going to get two hundred rubles from?"
The manager says: "Why don't you try getting together with
your relatives, and then maybe you can get out of this jam some-
The nephew, beside himself, ran along the procession to the
widow and informed her of what had occurred.
The widow wept still more, and refused to pay a thing.
Kolesnikov pushed his way through the crowd to the band and
told them to stop blowing their horns, since the whole matter had
gotten into a tangle and nobody knew now who would pay them.
In the ranks of the band, which was marching in formation,
some confusion occurred. The leader said: "We won't stop play-
ing, we will play to the end, and then we'll go to court to get the
money from the man who gave us the commission."
And clashing his cymbals together, he put an end to the dis-
Then Kolesnikov again pushed his way through to the man-
ager, but the latter, anticipating unpleasantness, had sat down
in an automobile and silently departed.
The hue and cry evoked surprise in the ranks of the procession.
The manager's departure and the widow's loud moaning struck
those present all the more. Discussions began, interrogations and
whisperings; the more so, since someone had passed along a
rumor that the manager had broached the problem of lowering
In all, they arrived at the cemetery in complete disorder. The
burial itself took place at an extremely rapid tempo and without
speeches. And everyone dispersed, feeling little satisfied. And
several insulted the deceased, recalling now one incident, now
another, from his petty life.
The following day, the nephew of the deceased uncle pressed
the manager so hard that the latter promised to discuss the matter
with the union. But at the same time he expressed doubts that it
would pass, since the union's task was to concern itself with the
living and not to mess around with the dead.
One way or another, Kolesnikov, meanwhile, sold his overcoat
in order to get out of the clutches of the band members who really
would have stopped at nothing to get their "honorarium."
The nephew sold his coat for two hundred and sixty rubles.
So that after he settled accounts with the bank, he still had some
"fat" left over, sixty rubles worth. With this money, the nephew
of this uncle made the third day's libations. And this circumstance
informs us that the institution with the manager at its head was
not at its full complement.
Having gotten thoroughly soused, the nephew of this uncle
came to me and, wiping away the tears with his sleeve, told me
about this whole petty unpleasantness of his, which was for him,
of course, far from being the last.
For his uncle, however, this petty unpleasantness was the last.
And that's just as well.
AN INSTRUCTIVE STORY
Here is what a certain worker of the city transport told me.
All in all, the little story he told is instructive not only for the
transport. It is also important for all other participants in our life.
For this reason we decided to trouble the attention of our
worthy readers with this little tale in the form of a short sketch.
So, once, in a certain administration, a certain rather large
worker named Ch. was employed.
In the course of twenty years he occupied solid positions in the
administration. Just think, at one time he was the head of the
local committee. Then he was moved to the position of adminis-
trative director. Then he was made the boss of something else.
Briefly speaking, all twenty years saw him at the summit of his
life. And everyone got used to this. And no one was surprised at
it. And many thought: 'That's the way things are."
Of course, Ch. was not an engineer or a technician. A special-
ist's education he did not have. And even in general, it seems, his
education was rather on the weak side.
Anything special, he did not know how to do. He didn't even
have a very good handwriting.
Nevertheless, everyone reckoned with him, respected him,
wished him well, and so forth.
When meetings occurred, he was especially indispensable.
Here, as the saying goes, he gave off steam as a god in the clouds.
He molded various speeches, pronounced words, aphorisms,
coined slogans. He opened every meeting with an introductory
speech about this or that. And everyone thought that without him
the world would revert back to the devil.
All his speeches, of course, were taken down in shorthand for
posterity. And for his twentieth anniversary in office, he even
thought up the idea of publishing his speeches as a separate
brochure. But inasmuch as paper had recently been assigned to
the increasing production of plates and cups for ice cream, there
wasn't enough paper for his brochure. Otherwise, we would have
read his original speeches with interest and expressed our surprise
at the way people are.
One way or another, it was decided to make quite a celebration
out of his twentieth anniversary. And a briefcase was even pur-
chased with a metal plate on which were engraved the words:
"You are this and that . . , twenty years . . . And so forth . . .
We regard you . . . You are for us ... Merci . . . And so forth . . .
And et cetera."
Something along this line, all told.
However, this anniversary did not take place because an event
occurred that notably lowered the significance of the proposed
This is what happened at the last meeting.
Our Chu had just made a speech. He had made a burning and
passionate speech: /"The workers, that is ... labor . . . they're
working . . alertness . . . solidarity . . ."
And exhausted by his speech, he took his seat beside the chair-
man amidst a thunder of applause, and he began to doodle dis-
tractedly on a sheet of paper.
And suddenly, just think, a certain worker gets up, one of the
motormen. He's dressed exceptionally neatly in a gray jacket,
with a forget-me-not in his buttonhole.
So he gets up and he talks like this: "Now that we've heard
the convincing speech of Comrade Ch., I would like to ask him
well, what is it he wanted to say? We've been hearing his tenor
voice for twenty years: 'Ah, workers, ah, labor, ah, et cetera . . .'
But let us ask: What does this Ch. contribute to our work? What
is he a technician, an engineer, or an opera star sent here for
our entertainment? Or is there something he knows how to do?
The point is that he doesn't know how to do anything. He only
makes empty speeches. But, just think, in twenty years we've out-
grown this. Many of us have had an education in the seven-year
school. And some of us have finished the ten-year school. And
maybe they could even teach a thing or two to our respected
Comrade Ch., since driving a trolley isn't what it used to be.
In former times the driver only knew how to turn the lever for
the motor, while at the present moment a driver is a specialist
in his own way, one who can draw a diagram of the motor, or
make a political speech, or give our orator Ch. a lesson in
Here a noise went up. Shouts. Exclamations.
The chairman got a little scared. He didn't know how he was
supposed to react to all this.
But the exclamations go on: "Right!" "True, every word of it!"
"Down with this Ch.!"
Then one worker gets up and says: "No, it isn't necessary to
fire our famous orator, especially since he's been on his job for
twenty years. But better let him sit in the local committee and
lick stamps there, rather than always be making moral speeches
at our production meetings."
At this point everyone shouted all over again: "Right ! w
But one worker, inclined to extremes, got up and said: "It's
likely this Ch. thought up a slogan with himself in mind: 'No free
loaders' And for this, he found himself at our head."
Then the chairman interrupted the orator. He said: "It's not
necessary to insult personalities."
At this point, everyone looked for an instant at this Ch. Every-
one expected to see a storm of indignation on his face, discom-
fort, and the tension of emotions. But no such thing was seen.
Ch. got up, smiled, and, scratching the back of his head, said:
"Properly speaking, what are you picking on me for? Because I'm
here? But you put me here, and for my part I never ceased being
amazed at it. Why, from the very beginning I told you I didn't
know anything about your business. More than that, I began to
boss you around, even though I've got little grammar. Why even
now, I don't mind telling you, I make six mistakes every two
At this point, everybody laughed. And Ch. himself laughed too.
He said: "Why, I'm really surprised at you myself. For twenty
years I've been living in a kind of fairy tale."
Then a conductor gets up and says: "It's like in Pushkin . , .
He traded a brick and didn't get away with it. He was left with
a cracked trough."
The chairman, closing the meeting, said: "And this one was
left with a cracked trough because he kept teaching for twenty
years, and never learned anything himself."
Kochergd (THE POKER)
[In spite of his reluctance to scholasticize a joke, the translator
must insert an explanation here. The word kochergd, which
means "a poker," although common, is a strange one in Russian.
It is of Tartar origin and follows an odd declension pattern. It
should be added also that the numerals two, three, four, in Rus-
sian, govern the genitive singular, whereas the numerals from five
on govern the genitiye plural. The abundant variety of diminutive
forms in Russian is also a factor in this story.]
An amusing event took place this last winter in a certain insti-
One should say that this institution occupied a not very large
separate house. At the same time, the house was of ancient con-
struction. The usual vulgar stoves heated this building.
A special man the stoker looked after these stoves. He went
his melancholy way carrying a kocherga (a "poker") from floor
to floor, poked the wood, adjusted the drafts, closed the pipes,
and so forth, all in this vein.
In the midst of contemporary technology, with hot water and
steam heating, one can say that this picture had something almost
unpleasant about it, an old-fashioned picture depicting the bar-
baric ways of our ancestors.
This year, in February, the stoker, while making his way along
the staircase, inflicted a slight burn on a certain employee, Nadia
R., with his poker. The employee herself was partly to blame.
She was scurrying along the staircase and bumped into the stoker.
In the process, she stretched out her hand and unfortunately hap-
pened to touch the poker, which was fairly warm, if not to say
The girl gasped and shrieked. And the stoker also gasped. In
all, this fussy girl's palm and fingers were slightly singed.
Of course, this is a trivial and empty incident, unworthy to be
spread out in the pages of creative literature. Nevertheless, the
unexpected consequences of this event were quite amusing. And
they have provided us with this little story.
The manager of the institution called in the stoker and gave
him a stern talking-to. He said: "So, you're going around with
your poker diminishing the ranks of my employees. Better look
out where you're going and not gawk around in all directions."
The stoker, sobbing brokenly, answered that he had only one
poker for six stoves, and with this one poker he had to go hither
and yon. Now if only there were a poker for every stove, then
there might be something to carp about. But under such circum-
stances he simply couldn't guarantee the untouchability of the
This simple idea to have a kochergd for every stove pleased
the manager. And he, not being a red-tape bureaucrat, immedi-
ately began to dictate to his typist an order for supplies. Pacing
the room, the manager dictated: ". . . Having only one kochergd
to service six stoves, it is impossible to protect the employees from
unfortunate accidents. For this reason, therefore, I request that
you promptly issue to the bearer of this order five k . . ."
But at this point, the manager broke off. He ceased dictation
and, scratching his head, said to the typist: "What the devil. I've
forgotten how you write five k . . . Three kochergi, clear. Four
kochergi understood. But five? Five what? Five kocher . . ."
The young typist shrugged her shoulders and said that all in
all she was hearing this word for the first time. In any case, she
had never declined a word like that in school.
The manager called his secretary and, with a troubled smile,
told him of his difficulty.
The secretary immediately began to decline this word:
"Nominative kochergd . . . Genitive kochergi . . . Dative
kochergd . . ." But arriving at the plural, the secretary gulped
and said that the plural number was spinning around in his head
but he couldn't remember it now.
Then he asked two other employees but they too did not suc-
ceed in shedding any light on the matter.
The secretary said: "There is an excellent way out. Let us
make two requests for supplies one for three pokers, and one
for two. That way we'll get five."
The manager found this awkward. He said that sending two
separate request slips would demoralize bookkeeping. They'd find
ways of reproaching him for this. Better, when it came to that,
to call up the Academy of Sciences and ask them how you write
five koche . . .
The secretary was about to call the Academy, but at the last
moment the manager didn't permit him to do this. What if some
smart-aleck scholar should chance to answer the phone, some-
body who would write a sketch in the newspaper to the effect
that the manager isn't too literate, to the effect that scientific
institutions are being bothered with such nonsense. No, better
proceed by one's own means. It might be a good idea to call the
stoker again in order to hear the word from his lips. In any case,
the man's been hanging around stoves all his life. Surely he ought
to know how to say five koche . . .
They called the stoker right away and began to probe him with
The stoker, assuming that they were going to chew him out
again, answered all the questions in gloomy monosyllables. He
muttered: "You see, we need five; then, you see, we can be more
careful." Otherwise, if they wanted, they could take him to court.
Having lost patience, the manager asked the stoker directly
what they wanted to know.
"You know yourselves," the stoker answered morosely.
But at this point, under pressure from the secretary and the
manager, the stoker at last pronounced the sought-after word. On
the stoker's lips, however, thisf word did not sound anything like
what they had expected, but something like this "five koc-
Then the secretary hastened to the legal department and
brought an employee from there who excelled in knowing how to
draft papers so skillfully they could pass over any reefs.
They explained what was expected of him to this employee
he had to draft the necessary request in such a way that the word
kochergd was not mentioned in the plural number while at the
same time making sure that the institution would be supplied
After chewing his pencil a bit, the employee sketched the fol-
lowing draft: "Until the present time our institution, while it has
had six stoves, has had in all only one kochergti. In virtue of this,
it is requested that five more be issued, so that each stove might
have its own independent kocherga. Therefore, to be issued
They were just about to send this paper off to the supply ware-
house, when, at this point, the typist came up to the manager and
said she had just called her mother, a senior typist with thirty
years' experience. And she had assured her that one had to write
The secretary said: "I thought so, too. Only I blanked out for
Right away the form was drafted and sent off to the supply
The funniest thing about this story is that the request form was
soon returned with a note from the warehouse manager: "Re-
fused, no kocherezhek in stock."
By this time, spring has come. Soon it will be summer. It's a
long way to winter. There's no point in thinking about the heating
in the meantime. In the spring it is well to think of literacy, as
it were, in connection with the spring tests in the middle schools.
As far as the above-mentioned word is concerned, it really is a
tricky one, worthy of the Academy of Sciences or a typist of
thirty years' experience.
All in all, it is necessary to transfer as rapidly as possible to
steam heat. So that people can already begin to forget these old-
fashioned words connected with wood heating.
This year I needed a photograph for my pass. I don't know
how it is in other towns, but with us on the periphery, having a
picture taken is not a simple, ordinary matter.
We have one artistic photographer's shop. But in addition to
private citizens, this shop takes pictures of groups and enterprises.
And perhaps that's why one has to spend such a long, long time
waiting to have one's orders filled.
Since I was more a private person than a group or an enter-
prise, I took pains to get there early and had the picture taken
two months before I needed it.
When they gave me my photographs, I was surprised at how
unlike myself I seemed. Before me was a very old face of quite
I told the girl who had handed me the photographs: "Why do
you snap people like that? Lbok, there are lines and wrinkles all
through my face."
She says: "It was snapped as it usually is. Only it should be
said that our retoucher is on sick leave. We didn't have anyone
to touch up the defects of your unphotogenic appearance."
The photographer who had been behind the portiere says:
"What's he griping about now? Not satisfied?"
I say: "You snapped it badly, honored sir. You disfigured me.
Can it be I look like that?"
The photographer says: "I snap opera stars, and they never get
insulted. And now a fellow like this turns up he's got too many
wrinkles . . . When the objective is focused too sharply, every-
thing comes out in relief . . . You don't know the technique, and
here you're setting yourself up as a critic!"
I say: "For what do I need to have my face in relief? Put your-
self in my place. You should just snap me as I am," I say, "so
one could look at it."
The photographer says: "Ah, he needs to look yet! We snapped
his picture and he wants to look at it yet. Caprice, at a time like
this. Defects, he sees . . . No, I'm sorry I snapped you so well.
Next time I'll snap you so you'll look at the photograph and
No, I didn't stop to argue with him. It doesn't matter, I think,
what kind of photograph I have for my pass. Everybody can see
what I really look like.
And with these thoughts, I turn up at the department. The
police sergeant began to fasten the photograph to my pass. Then
he says: "In my opinion, that's not you on the photograph."
"What do you mean," I say, "not me? I assure you, it's me.
Ask the photographer. He'll confirm it."
The sergeant says: "If I asked the photographer every time
what would come of it? No, on a photograph I want to see a
given face, without having to call up the photographer. And here
I can see, there's no resemblance. Looks like somebody sick with
typhus. No meat at all around the cheekbones. Go take it over
I run to the photographer's shop. I say to the photographer:
"You see what a lousy job you did. They won't even stamp your
The photographer says: "The product is quite a normal one.
But, of course, you have to take into account that we weren't
going to turn on full illumination just for you. We snapped the
picture with one lamp. And that's why shadows fell across your
face and darkened it. They didn't darken it completely, though.
They didn't darken it so much that nothing could be seen. Just
look how well your ears came out."
"Well, all right," I say "the ears. But the cheeks," I say,
"where are they? Cheeks, too," I say, "are part of the human
The photographer says: "I don't know. We didn't touch your
cheeks. We have our own."
"Then," I say, "where are they? I," I say, "have spent two
weeks in a house of rest. I gained ten pounds. And you here, with
just one picture, God knows what you've made of me."
The photographer says: "Why, I suppose / removed your
cheeks or something? Seems to me you were told quite clearly: a
shadow fell on them. And that's why they didn't come out."
I say: "And how can it be, without cheeks?"
"Ah," he says, "as you wish. Snap it over again, I just won't.
If I snapped them all over again I wouldn't fulfill my plan and
I'd lose all the premiums. And, to me, the plan is more dear than
your unphotogenic face."
Customers say to me: "Don't get the photographer all worked
up. Or he'll snap even worse pictures of people."
One of the customers says to me: "Honored sir, run down to
the market. There's a photographer there snapping pictures with
an old-fashioned camera."
I run down to the market. I find the photographer. He says:
"No, I've got to have plates to snap a picture. Without plates,
better not come to me; it's all the same, I just won't snap. But if
you have a plate, I'll snap. And if you should happen to have a
featherbed then, too, I'll snap. My aunt just arrived from
Barnaul and she hasn't got anything to sleep on."
I wanted to leave, but at this point I hear some kind of salesman
is calling me over. He says: "Come along to my store. I have the
I look. He has spread out on a newspaper various kinds of
ready-made photographs. About three hundred.
The salesman says: "Pick out the one you like best and do with
it as you please. You can even paste it on your forehead. If you
like, I'll pick one out for you myself. How would you like it, by
size or by likeness?"
"By likeness," I say, "only," I say, "pick one that's got cheeks."
He says: "Can be done with cheeks. But they cost five rubles
more . . . Now, take this photograph here , . . You won't find any-
thing better than that. And cheeks, it has. And nobody could say
that there isn't any resemblance at all."
I paid thirty rubles for two photographs and went to the de-
The police sergeant began to attach my photograph. Then he
says: "Why, but this is an old woman."
"Where do you mean," I say, "an old woman? It's a man in a
'Where the devil is it a man if he's wearing a brooch on his
chest? From this brooch I can tell it's a woman."
I looked at the photograph, and I see it really is a woman.
There's a marquisette blouse under the jacket. On her chest, a
brooch with a landscape painted on. But a man's haircut. And
The sergeant says: "You come here with real photographs. But
if you show me a woman's or a child's photograph again, I'll have
you hauled off because I won't be able to avoid the suspicion that
you're trying to conceal yourself under somebody else's face."
I spent a whole week as in a fog. I asked everyone where I
might get a picture snapped. On the eighth day, while conversing
with a photographer, I began to feel ill. Then they carried me
out to the garden and stretched me out on the grass so that the
fresh air might revive me. When I came to, I went to the depart-
ment. I put my first photographs on the table the ones without
cheeks and I said to the sergeant: "This is all I have, comrade
chief. And I can see no way of getting anything better."
The sergeant looked at the pictures, and then at me. And he
says: "There you are now, that's not bad. Likenesses."
I wanted to say that I hadn't snapped them over again at all.
Then I looked at myself in the mirror and, really, I see, there is
a certain resemblance now. It came through.
The sergeant says: "Even though you look a little shabbier in
the picture than in real life, still," he says, "I'd guess that in about
a year it will equal out."
"It'll equal out before that, since I still have to get snapped for
a travel document, for my party card, and for sending some snap-
shots to my relatives."
At this point the sergeant stamped my photograph and warmly
congratulated me on my having received a pass.
THE ADVENTURES OF AN APE
In a certain city in the south, there was a zoo. It was a small
zoo, in which there were one tiger, two crocodiles, three snakes, a
zebra, an ostrich, and one ape, or in other words, a monkey. And,
naturally, various minor items birds, fish, frogs, and similar in-
significant nonsense from the animal world.
At the beginning of the war, when the Fascists bombed the
city, one bomb fell directly on the zoo. And it exploded there with
a great shattering roar. To the surprise of all the beasts.
The three snakes were killed, all at the same time, not in itself
a very sad fact perhaps. Unfortunately, the ostrich, too.
The other beasts did not suffer. As the saying goes, they only
shook with fear.
Of all the beasts, the most frightened was the ape, the monkey.
An explosion overturned his, cage. The cage fell from its stand.
One side was broken. And our ape fell out of the cage onto the
He fell out onto the path, but did not remain lying there im-
mobile in the manner of people who are used to military activities.
On the contrary. He immediately climbed up a tree. From there,
he leaped on the wall. From the wall to the street. And, as though
he were on fire, he ran.
He's running, and probably he's thinking: "Eh, if there are
bombs falling around here, then I don't agree." And that means
he's running like mad along the city streets.
He ran all the way through the city. He ran out on the highway.
He runs along this highway till he leaves the city behind. Well, an
ape. It's not a man. He doesn't understand the whys and where-
fores. He doesn't see any sense in remaining in this city.
He ran and ran and tired himself out. He was all tired out. He
climbed a tree. He ate a fly to recoup his strength. And then a
couple of worms. And he fell asleep there on the branch where
he was sitting.
At this time, a military vehicle came along the road. The driver
saw the ape in the tree. He was surprised. Quietly he crept up to
it. He flung his coat over it. And put it in his vehicle. He thought:
"It's better I give him to some friend of mine rather than have
him die of hunger, cold, and other hardships." So that means, on
he went along with the ape.
He arrived in the city of Borisov. He went about his official
business. But the monkey remained in the vehicle. He said to it:
"Wait for me here, cutie. I'll be back soon."
But our monkey wouldn't wait. He climbed out of the vehicle
through a broken window and went strolling along the streets.
And, so, he proceeds, the dear little thing, along the street^
strolling, ambling along, tail up. The people, naturally, are sur-
prised and want to catch him. But catching him isn't all that easy.
He's lively and nimble, and runs quickly on all fours. So they
didn't catch him, but only succeeded in tormenting the fugitive
Tormented, he wearied and, naturally, wanted to eat.
But in the city, where could he eat? There wasn't anything
edible in the streets. With his tail, he could hardly get into a
restaurant. Or a co-operative. All the more since he had no money.
No discount. Ration coupons he does not have. It's awful.
Nevertheless, he got into a certain co-operative. Had a feeling
that something was doing there. And they were distributing vege-
tables to the population: carrots, rutabagas, and cucumbers.
He scampered into this store. He sees: There's a long line. No,
he did not take a place in this line. Nor did he start pushing people
aside in order to shove his way through. He just leaped along the
heads of the customers to where the goods were. He leaped on
the counter. He didn't ask how much a kilo of carrots costs. And,
as the saying goes, that's the kind he was. He ran out of the store,
satisfied with his purchase. Well, an ape. Doesn't understand the
whys and wherefores. Doesn't see the sense of remaining without
Naturally there was commotion in the store, hubbub, confusion.
The public began to yell. The salesgirl who was weighing ruta-
bagas almost fainted from surprise. And, really, one could well be
frightened, if instead of the usual, normal-type customer, a hairy
creature with a tail hops up. And what's more, doesn't even pay.
The public pursued the ape into the street. And he runs and on
the way he chews on a carrot. He's eating. He doesn't understand
the whys and wherefores.
The little boys are running at the head of the crowd. Behind
them, the grown-ups. And, bringing up the rear, the policeman
is running and blowing on his whistle.
And from somewhere, Lord knows where, a dog leaped out into
the melee. And also sets out after our little monkey. Not only is
he yelping and yowling, but he's even trying to sink his teeth into
Our monkey picked up speed. He runs, and probably he's think-
ing to himself: "Och," he's thinking, "should never have left the
zoo. Breathing was easier in the cage. First opportunity, I'm going
to head right back there."
And, so, he runs as hard as he can, but the dog isn't giving up
and still wants to grab him.
Then our ape hppped up onto some kind of fence. And when
the dog leaped up to grab the monkey by the feet, as it were, the
latter blipped him full force with a carrot on the nose. And he hit
him so hard that the dog yelped and ran home, wounded nose and
all. Probably he was thinking: "No, citizens, better I should lie
quietly at home than go catching monkeys and experiencing such
Briefly speaking, the dog fled and our ape leaped into the yard.
In the yard at this time a teen-age boy was chopping wood, a
certain Alesha Popov.
There he is, chopping wood, and suddenly he sees an ape. All
his life he's dreamed of having an ape like that. And suddenly
there you are!
Alesha slipped off his jacket and with this jacket he caught the
monkey who had run up the ladder in the corner.
The boy brought him home. Fed him. Gave him tea to drink.
And the ape was quite content. But not entirely. Because Alesha's
grandma took an instant dislike to him. She shouted at the monkey
and even wanted to strike him across the paw. All this because,
while they were drinking tea, grandma had put a piece of candy
she had been chewing on a plate, and the ape had grabbed grand-
ma's candy and tossed it into his own mouth. Well, an ape. It's not
a man. A man, if he takes something, wouldn't do it right under
grandma's nose. But this monkey right in grandma's presence.
And, naturally, it brought her almost to tears.
Grandma said: "All in all, it's extremely unpleasant having
some kind of macaco with a tail living in the apartment. It will
frighten me with its inhuman face. It will jump on me in the dark.
It will eat my candy. No, I absolutely refuse to live in the same
apartment with an ape. One of us is going to wind up in the zoo.
Can it be that I should move straight over to the zoo? No, better
let the monkey go there. And I will continue to live in my apart-
Alesha said to his grandma: "No, grandma, you don't need to
move over to the zoo. I guarantee that the monkey won't eat any-
thing more of yours. I will train it like a person. I will teach it to
eat with a teaspoon. And to drink tea out of a glass. As far as
jumping is concerned, I cannot forbid it to swing from the lamp
that hangs from the ceiling. From there, naturally, it could leap
on your head. But the main thing is that you shouldn't be fright-
ened if this happens. Because this is only an ape that means no
harm, and in Africa it was used to leaping and swinging."
The next day Alesha left for school. And begged his grandma
to look after the ape. But grandma did not begin to look after it.
She thought: "What am I going to do yet, stand here looking after
every monstrosity?" And with these thoughts, grandma went
and fell asleep on purpose in her armchair.
And then our ape leaped out into the street through the open
casement window. And walked along on the sunny side. It isn't
known whether he maybe just wanted to go for a little stroll, or
whether he wanted to go have another look at the store to see if
there was anything he wanted to buy for himself. Not for money,
but just so.
And along the street at this time a certain old man was making
his way. The invalid Gavrilych. He was going to the bathhouse.
And in his hands he carried a small basket in which there were
some soap and a change of linen.
He saw the ape and at first he didn't even believe his eyes that
it was an ape. He thought it only seemed that way to him because
he had just drunk up a jug of beer.
So he looks with amazement at the ape. And it looks at him.
Maybe it's thinking: "What kind of a scarecrow is this, with a
basket in his hands?"
Finally, it dawned on Gavrilych that this was a real ape and
not an imaginary one. And then he thought: "With luck, 111 catch
it. Tomorrow I'll take it to the market and I'll sell it there for a
hundred rubles. And with that kind of money I can drink ten jugs
of beer in a row." And with these thoughts in mind Gavrilych set
about catching the ape, murmuring: "P'st, p'st, p'st . . . here now."
No, he knew it wasn't a cat, but he wasn't sure what language
to speak to it in. But then it struck him that this was, after all, the
most highly developed creature of the animal world. And then he
took a piece of sugar out of his pocket, showed it to the ape, and
said, taking a bow: "Monkey, old friend, old beauty, wouldn't you
like to eat a little piece of sugar?"
The latter replied: "Please, yes I would . . ." That is, actually,
he didn't say anything because he didn't know how to talk. But
he simply walked right up, grabbed this little lump of sugar, and
started to eat it.
Gavrilych picked him up in his hands and put him in his
basket. It was warm and snug in the basket. And our monkey
didn't try to get out. Maybe he thought: "Let this old sot carry me
in his basket. It's even rather pleasant."
At first Gavrilych thought of taking it home. But then he really
didn't want to go home again. And he went to the bathhouse with
the ape. He thought: "Better I should go to the bathhouse with it.
There I can wash it up. It will be clean, pleasant to look at. I'll
tie a ribbon around its neck. That way I'll get more for it at the
And so he arrived at the bathhouse with his monkey. And be-
gan to wash himself, and to wash it too.
And it was very warm in the bathhouse, boiling just like
Africa. And our monkey was quite pleased with this warm at-
mosphere. But not entirely. Because Gavrilych was washing him
with soap and the soap got into his mouth. Naturally, it didn't
taste good, but that was no reason to scream and kick around
and refuse to be washed. Our monkey began to splash furiously,
but at this point soap got into his eyes. And from this, the monkey
really went out of his mind. He bit Gavrilych on the finger, tore
himself loose, and leaped out of the bath as though he were on fire.
He leaped out into the room where people were getting dressed.
And there, he frightened them all out of their wits. No one knew
it was an ape. They see: something round, white, and foamy has
leaped out. At first it leaped onto the couch. Then on the stove.
From the stove onto the trunk. From the trunk onto somebody's
head. And again up on the stove.
Several nervous-type customers cried out and started to run out
of the bathhouse. And our ape ran out too. And went scampering
down the stairs.
s And there below was the ticket office, with a little window. The
ape leaped through this little window, thinking it would be more
peaceful there, and, most important, there wouldn't be such a fuss
and commotion. But in the ticket office sat the fat woman who
sold the tickets, and she sobbed and squealed. And ran out of the
ticket office shouting: "Help! Emergency! Seems a bomb fell in
my office. Quick, some iodine!"
Our monkey hated all this yelling. He leaped out of the office
and ran along the street.
And there he is running along the street all wet and foamy
with soap, and behind him, once again, people are running. The
boys at the head. Behind them, the grown-ups. Behind the grown-
ups, the policeman. And behind the policeman, our ancient Gav-
rilych, dressed harum-scarum, with his boots in his hands.
But at this point that dog leaped out again from some place or
other, the very same one who'd been after the monkey the day
Having seen this, our monkey thought: "Well, now, citizens,
I'm done for once and for all."
But this time the dog didn't go after him. The dog only looked
at the fleeing ape, felt a sharp pain in its nose, and stopped
running; even turned around. Probably thought: "They don't
supply you with noses running after apes." And although it
turned around, it barked angrily: as much as to say, run where
you will, I'm staying put.
At this very time our boy, Alesha Popov, returned home from
school. He did not find his dear little ape at home. He was terribly
roused up about it. And tears even came to his eyes. He thought
that now he'd never see his glorious, divine little monkey again.
And so, from boredom and sorrow, he went out on the street.
He walks along the street in a melancholy funk. And suddenly
he sees people are running. No, at first he didn't grasp that they
were running after his ape. He thought they were running because
of an air raid. But at this point he saw his ape all soapy and
wet. He flew toward it. He picked it up in his arms. He hugged it
to himself, so as not to give it up.
Then all the people who had been running came and sur-
rounded the boy.
At this point our ancient Gavrilych emerged from the crowd.
And exhibiting his bitten finger for all to see, he said: "Citizens,
don't let this fellow take my ape in his arms. I want to sell it on
the market tomorrow. This is my very own ape, which bit me on
the finger. Just look at this gored finger of mine. And that testi-
fies that I'm telling the truth."
The boy, Alesha Popov, said: "No, this ape isn't his, it's my
ape. Look how happily it came to my arms. And this testifies that
I'm telling the truth."
But at this point yet another man emerges from the crowd
that very driver who had transported the ape in his vehicle. He
says: "No, it's not your ape and it's not yours either. It's my
monkey because I transported it. But I'm returning to my unit,
so I'm going to give the ape to the one who keeps him kindly in
his arms, and not to the one who'd sell him pitilessly on the market
for the sake of a few driblets. The ape belongs to the boy."
And at this point the whole audience applauded. And Alesha
Popov, beaming with happiness, hugged the ape still more tightly
to himself. And triumphantly carried him home.
Gavrilych, with his bitten finger, went to the bathhouse to wash
And, so, from that time on, the ape came to live with the boy,
He's still living with him. Not long ago I took a trip to the city
of Borisov. And I purposely went to Alesha's place to see how
the ape was getting on. Oh, it was getting along very well indeed!
It didn't run away anywhere. It had become very obedient. Wiped
its nose with a handkerchief. Doesn't take candy from strangers.
So that even grandma is satisfied now and doesn't get mad at it,
and no longer wants to move to the zoo.
When I entered Alesha's room, the ape was sitting on the table.
Sitting there with a sense of importance, like a ticket taker at the
movies. And was eaing some rice cereal with a teaspoon.
Alesha said to me: "I've educated him like a man, and now all
children and even some grown-ups can take him as an example."
AN EXTRAORDINARY EVENT
This past summer I spent my vacation in a house of rest. The
manager of our house of rest directed all his fatherly attentions to
the diet of those who were resting, quite rightly assuming that a
good table would make up for the many shortcomings of his in-
He had hired an excellent cook who made splendid pirozhki,
amazing salads, and cutlets that weren't bad at all. The dessert,
prepared by the masterful hand of this cook, always evoked gen-
For this reason, the vacationers were well disposed and more
than once thanked the manager for his model enterprise.
Wishing to please the vacationers even more, the manager once
told someone who had come to thank him: "With your permis-
sion," he said, "I will turn your excellency over to our cook, Ivan
Fomich, who's working away there at the stove. This would un-
doubtedly encourage him. And that way we'd get even better re-
From the following day, the quality of the dinners really did im-
prove even more. And then the manager, beaming with pleasure,
said to the vacationers: "So, you see, the enthusiasm our cook is
showing since he received your thanks. And that's just oral thanks
a bird in the sky. I sincerely advise you: compose a letter of
praise to the cook. We'll post it on our bulletin board. And then
we'll see what will happen."
The vacationers did just that. They posted a letter with five
signatures on the bulletin board; in an ardent style they remarked
on the outstanding culinary activity of the cook, Ivan Fomich.
At the same time a certain artist among the vacationers drew
a handsome frame around the letter, decorated with scrolls,
flowers, and laurel leaves.
The effect exceeded the manager's expectations.
The marvelous pirozhki prepared by our cook now literally
melted in the mouth. The salads were now such that even a man
who had eaten his fill went on eating more and more. But the
dessert that day evoked general astonishment mingled with tu-
But one of the vacationers demonstrated special enthusiasm
a young composer who sat at the table beside me. Accurately
speaking, he bounced more than he sat. Some kind of released
spring simply wouldn't permit his long thin body to sit still.
Behind our table were seated a doctor of philological science
and his wife. The philologist was an unusually gaunt and silent
person. But his wife more than made up for these defects.
So that, once, while dining, the young composer manifested
exceptional enthusiasm, which even approached a kind of frenzy.
Everything that was put on the table this time, he praised to an
immoderate degree. But when they brought the dessert, he leaped
up from his chair and exclaimed, turning to the philologist: "Taste
this whipped-cream frosting right away! It's a miracle of the
The doctor of philological science, having tasted the whipped
cream, said, "yes," and nodded his head in a sign of assent.
The philologist's wife began to explain to us that this whipped
cream really was good and why frosting creams usually were of
an inferior quality.
Without waiting to hear her through to the end, the composer
once again exclaimed: "No, no, we have still not taken full meas-
ure of the great services of our cook! We are duty-bound, time and
again, to keep encouraging this divine gift!"
The philologist's wife proposed that a certain sum of money
be collected from among the vacationers in order to buy the cook
a silver cigarette holder or a section of material for his uniform.
The composer, however, exclaimed indignantly: "Och, that
wouldn't do at all! Before us is an astonishing master of his craft
an artist! And we should honor him as we would an artist."
And with these words the composer began to applaud.
The diners looked at him with perplexity. And then the com-
poser hastily ran around the tables and in low tones informed
everyone that it had now been decided to greet the cook with ap-
plause, to arrange an ovation for him.
All agreed to this willingly. And, at a sign from the composer,
the dining room broke into friendly applause.
The kitchen personnel did not instantly grasp the meaning of
this noise. The scullery maid appeared on the dining-hall thresh-
old. And from behind, the assistant cook, Fediushka, stuck out
his head. Both were smiling, but they looked at the applauding
people without understanding what was going on.
The office help ran in. The manager appeared. He immediately
joined the crowd and cried out loudly: "Ivan Fomich! We want
The cook, Ivan Fomich, soon appeared. He was a massive man
with a drooping gray mustache. His high chefs cap gave him a
rather frightening appearance.
Well, naturally, the cook, Ivan Fomich, was already accus-
tomed to recognition and success, but this ovation noticeably
moved and even stunned him with its novelty. For some time he
stood silently on the dining-hall threshold and, wiping his sweaty
face with his apron, he looked askance at all those around who
were standing up and applauding him.
The applause grew stronger. The composer ran over to the
piano and played a flourish. And then the cook, Ivan Fomich,
came out into the center of the dining room.
Now a complex mixture of emotions played across his face.
Pride, agitation, enthusiasm, astonishment that was what one
could read on his features at one and the same time.
The manager raised a hand and, having obtained silence,
turned to the cook with a short speech. This is what he said, with-
out any notes: "Dear Ivan Fomich! For a long time your prede-
cessors duped the public with their doubtful culinary doings. And
only since you have taken charge has spiritual peace been ob-
tained, an essential prerequisite for health. Allow me, in the name
of all the vacationers, to congratulate you and congratulate you
again for your high mastery, which, like the sun, has illuminated
our modest house of rest!"
Here, amidst wild applause, the manager embraced the cook
and kissed him three times on cheek and mustache.
Now it was proposed that the cook make a brief speech in
reply. But Ivan Fomich did not seem to be a master of that com-
plicated art. It could have been, however, that excitement had
lost him his tongue. One way or another, Ivan Fomich dropped a
few meager phrases, from which, however, one could gather the
noble quality of his thoughts. Having removed his white cap, and
hugging it to his heart, he said: "I tried ... I managed ... I
promise to do my best from now on ... I'm deeply grateful for
this recognition . . . Thanks . . ."
Amidst stormy applause, music, and shouts of "bravo!" this
encounter between the vacationers and the cook came to an end.
Having taken a modest bow, Ivan Fomich withdrew to the
No, I was not a witness to the events which followed; but eye-
witnesses have informed me with formal precision of what hap-
pened soon after.
At five o'clock, the cook, Ivan Fomich, accompanied by his
nephew, Fediushka, made his way to the village to some fishermen
friends. There, having drunk quite a bit, Ivan Fomich hired a boat
with two rowers. He decorated this boat with carpets and shrubs.
In the stern, he sat an accordion player who was an acquaintance
of his. And in this boat, amidst the sound of music, they rowed
along the lake and past the numerous rest homes and sanatoriums.
During this entire aqueous excursion the cook stood up in the
boat with his hand on the shoulder of one of the rowers. During
this entire excursion (according to eyewitnesses) Ivan Fomich
stood like a monument between the carpets and the greenery. And
when the accordion player was silent, the assistant cook, Fe-
diushka, immediately began to plink away at his mandolin.
The considerable quantity of wine that the cook had downed,
however, brought the expedition to an unexpected mishap. When
the rowers turned the boat sharply for a second trip, Ivan Fomich
didn't quite manage to keep his feet, and fell overboard. His portly
body shook the frail craft, and, scooping up water, it overturned.
Fediushka and the rowers swam to shore. And fishermen fished
out the cook and the accordion player and his instrument.
Ivan Fomich had swallowed a large amount of water, and for
a long time he lay on the shore almost without moving. The in-
habitants of the village wanted to give him artificial respiration,
but he wouldn't let them. And along with his drenched nephew
Fediushka, he hastened back to his own apartment.
And, there, in his own apartment (as people confirmed) Ivan
Fomich drank, ate, and made an uproar until deep into the night.
This extraordinary event became known in our house of rest
only the following day, when, instead of the usual excellent break-
fast, people were served semolina with cranberry sauce.
At breakfast, the doctor of philological science said to us, smil-
ing a little: "Well, I always said that people need unusual moral
fiber to be able to stand up to ardent praise."
The philologist's wife began to expand on her husband's idea
for us, and took it upon herself to explain in many, many words,
that praising people was necessary, pedagogically it gave marvel-
ous results; past a certain point, though, she said, sometimes
strange and unexpected things happened like the scandalous
event involving our cook. From this it is demonstrable that ex-
cessive praise is dangerous for a weak spirit.
The young composer exclaimed with some inner agitation:
"No, I do not agree with you! Even the most exalted praise
couldn't damage the issue. And I am more than convinced that
our cook, when he's recovered from his mishap, will more than
That day we were fed a dinner obviously prepared by an un-
skilled hand. And for five days (by no means a short time for
vacationers) the dinners were of quite doubtful quality. But to-
ward the end of the week, the vacationers once again could not
restrain themselves from demonstrative enthusiasm in the direc-
tion of our cook, Ivan Fomich.
And, then, the young composer, while eating his dessert after
dinner, said excitedly to the philologist's wife: 'Try these
meringues! Ardent praise did not damage the issue in the least.
Those honors that we showed the cook have only served to unfold
his astonishing mastery!"
While praising the meringues, the philologist's wife stuck to
her own opinion. She said that ardent praise was more dangerous
for an inexperienced apprentice than for a first-class master. In-
experienced apprenticeship, after excessive praise, often remained
stunted in its growth, considering that it didn't have any farther
to go. Or spirits drooped with the first failure. And, then, there's
the pursuit of forgetfulness in a glass of liquor.
The young composer leaped up from the table in order to give
her some reply, but the philologist's wife continued without a
pause: "And even for a first-class master," she said, "there's a
certain danger here. Excessive praise often lulls conscience to
sleep, rouses pride, and hinders a critical attitude to his own work.
For this reason, even a first-class master let's say an artist of
the word sometimes botches his mastery. He becomes a half-
baked preacher, a bigot, an hysteric, and sometimes even an un-
The philologist's wife spoke long and volubly on this theme
and concluded her speech with the following words: "Of course,
such corruption can't befall our first-class cook. Ardent praise
only upset his moral equilibrium for a short time. Judging by the
meringues, it's all over and done with, to everybody's satisfaction.
And now, apparently, our cook can be praised again without risk-
ing any more unpleasant surprises."
The doctor of philological science did not take part in this con-
versation, and, only at the very end, did he say to the composer in
an elevated tone: "Moral fortitude, young man, is quite necessary
in any profession, including the culinary business here, and es-
pecially music, which is so often accompanied by applause."
To this the young composer gave no reply, and with the un-
strung pace of a man surfeited with honors and applause, he left
IN THE BATHHOUSE
The extensive dressing room is tastefully constructed and even
not without beauty. There are carpet mattings on the floor. There
are clean covers on the couches. At the entrance, there is a buffet
with a centerpiece of flowers.
On the couch opposite me, there is a youngish father and his
six-year-old son. While clumsily dressing the boy, the young father
now and then proffers some instruction on the rules of behavior.
In the tone of a stern teacher, he says to him: "Don't snuffle; take
your handkerchief out of your pocket . . . Don't wiggle your foot
in the air while papa's taking your pants off! . . ."
These scenes of an educational nature did not occupy my imag-
ination too fully, and I began to look at the attendant whose ap-
pearance surprised me. He was a young fellow of blossoming
appearance, no more than twenty-two years old. He wore sport
shoes, striped trousers, and a white Russian blouse, belted with
a bunched braid.
The work the fellow did was the very simplest. He takes back
the zinc basin from those who have just finished washing, opens
the linen closet with his key, and, waiting for the next customer,
walks up and down the dressing room, looking wearily at the
surface of the couches.
I felt like asking the young attendant how and why he had
chosen such a career, so much more suitable for superannuated or
exhausted lives. The following headlong events, however, pre-
vented me from turning to the attendant with this question.
A short, solid man, who had just finished washing, entered the
dressing room. His face was good-natured, almost gay. Through
the gray stubble of a long unshaven face, flickered a soft hyper-
tonic blush. His belly was enormous it sagged with the weight
of the no-less-than thirty tons of food it must have, in its time,
taken in and hung down heavily. On the belly, a surgical scar
of ancient origin flashed whitely.
The old man, apparently, had been pawed more than once in
the cruel embraces of life, but one sensed that he was still firmly
attached to the world by the simple pleasure it offered.
Entering the dressing room with a zinc basin in his hands, the
old man paused at the entrance, darting his eyes about in search
of the young attendant. Streams of water flowed from his stout
shoulders. A cloudlet of light steam hovered over the small bald
spot on his gray head. The old man, apparently, had washed him-
self well, and now he was eager to get dressed as soon as possible.
Not finding the attendant, who was standing near the buffet,
the old man called in a fluent tenor: "Hey, who opens the lockers
The young attendant moved hastily over to the old man and,
having opened the necessary locker, stepped aside.
The old man did not linger around the open locker for long,
and, having picked up his clothes, moved over to the couch in
order to dress himself. But at this point, before reaching the couch,
he tripped over the carpet matting and almost fell. The old man
did not manage to hang on to his load and it slipped out of his
arms to the floor.
In addition to the old man's linen, there lay a large package
wrapped in newspaper. This package, which hit the floor hard,
came undone, and all that it contained spilled out on the carpet
matting. And what it contained.Avas hundred-ruble notes, stoutly
tied with bands from the bank, on each one of which was
stamped the number 10,000.
There were no less than twenty such packets. In addition to
this, there was one odd packet of hundred-ruble notes. Some of
the notes from this packet were lifted by the draft and flew toward
the couch across the room.
The young attendant, clasping his hands together, shouted in
a frightened voice: "Money!"
Hastily collecting the dispersed packet, the old man said with
displeasure to the attendant: "All right, money. What's there to
blow about? Never seen any before?"
The young attendant, nervously gripping his white blouse, re-
mained in wide-eyed astonishment.
"A heap like that I have never seen. Where did you get it all
"Well, you spend your life in such an out-of-the-way place,"
the old man answered, already with a certain irritation, having
fioticed that the bathhouse customers were watching his hurried
activities from all sides.
"No, really, comrade, where did you get such a pile of money?"
the young father asked sternly. He had been moving in the direc-
tion of getting washed, with his naked son in tow, but had held
back at the last moment and, to the child's annoyance, had sat
down again on the couch.
The old man did not reply. Collecting the money in the torn
newspaper, he was still crawling along the floor and was wetter
now than he had been before.
A solid wall of customers formed around the old man. All were
silent, not knowing what to say or how to behave in such an
But then, shoving people aside, a small thinnish man with a
dark face and sharp spiny eyes under thick dark eyebrows arrived
at the place of activity. He was still not quite dressed. His unbut-
toned shirt revealed a narrow chickenlike chest. Lilac braces
dangled from his scraggy rear-end.
They say that all the evil of the world comes from small thinnish
men. It's possible that this is a slight exaggeration, but in the
given instance the thinnish man in the next few moments displayed
all the shadowy aspects of this type of person, of which he was a
Stepping forward, he said in a truculent tone to the old man:
"Where's the money from? Just answer quickly, so you don't have
time to think up a lie!"
Wiping himself with a bath towel, the old man replied causti-
cally: "And you, peewee, who needs you here? Button up your
shirt before you start talking to people. Could be I find it repul-
sive seeing you undressed."
These words did not divert the undersized customer. On the
contrary, he came up closer to the old man and said in a hissing
tone: "We'll see about that yet. We'll see who gets buttoned first,
and who gets to go where when he's through here! Answer to the
group where'd you get this money?"
And, here, the thin man lifted his hand in a broad demagogic
gesture as though gathering all of the bathhouse society around
But even this classical gesture did not frighten the old man.
Putting on his shirt, he shouted angrily at the thin man: "Get away
from me! Or I'll pick you up by the pants and throw you out of
This dreadful outburst took the wind out of the thin person's
sails. Continuing to fuss, however, he said softly, turning to the
bathhouse group: "People are not in the habit of taking such sums
with them, either to the barbershop or to the bathhouse. And if
he brought it with him that means he wanted to hide this money
from someone or destroy the traces of his illegal activities."
The young attendant exclaimed innocently: "It's likely he cor-
nered loans at a cheap rate of interest and made hundreds of
thousands on them!"
The thin man hissed through his teeth: "But it's not excluded
that the money may be counterfeit . . . Where's the administration
Swiftly flinging a black jacket around himself, the thin man
moved toward the staircase, shouting back: "Don't let anyone
out of the bathhouse!"
The owner of the money, seeing all the fuss, waved his hand
with some indignation and even frowned.
The young father said sternly to his naked son, who had grown
chilly and had begun to whimper: "Remember well, Icarus:
people who steal or who deceive mama and papa are the most
unworthy people on our planet. They slow down the progress of
Icarus whimpered even more loudly and did not answer his
father. The young attendant, who couldn't tear himself away,
stared at the owner of the money, who was dressing himself with-
out haste. Having probably come to the conclusion that the old
man didn't look like a swindler, the attendant asked him once
again: "No, really now, pop. Tell me, no kidding, where did you
get all that money?"
Smiling, the old man answered the fellow: "This money, my
friend, I earned by my own labor. I saved it up."
"Well, but how did you earn it? Doing what?" the attendant
asked eagerly, and, sitting down beside the old man on the couch,
he said in an intimate tone: "Take me, now, pop. I'm from the
country. I've only had three years of school. I'm still not used to
the city. I'd like to make a little money, but I don't know where
to start. Tell me, pop! Explain to an orphan how you managed to
bring this off in the city?"
The owner of the money laughed gaily till the tears came, and,
then, wiping his eyes with the tail of his clean shirt, he said:
"You'll hardly get rich in your post at the bathhouse. Where is
there space for a falcon to spread his wings?"
Getting excited, the young attendant said: "That's just it, pop!
Where can I just stretch out a little bit? Here I am, walking
around the dressing room as though I had the pox ... So do me
the favor, tell me how you made your fortune. With whom, for
example, did you work?"
"I'm a locksmith by profession," the old man answered. "But
once in a while I work as a mechanic. I worked at this job in the
coal mines. After that I moved over to oil wells."
"And how much did they pay you for that?"
The old man answered without haste: "You've got to keep in
mind, young man, where I was working. It was a long way from
here. I was in the Far East and in Sakhalin and I got time-and-
"What did this come to a month?"
"It was about three and a half in round figures. I spent a thou-
sand, not allowing myself anything I didn't need, and two and a
half went into my savings account. So, you see, in eight years I
saved quite a bit."
The attendant moved his lips soundlessly, adding up the figures
in his head. And having arrived at the sum, exclaimed loudly:
"You saved two hundred and forty thousand!"
The crowd around the old man and the attendant diminished
greatly. Many who had perceived that the case had evaporated left
to wash and to dress. One of those who was leaving said with
astonishment: "Such a sum the old devil saved up a quarter mil-
The young attendant, whose stormy feelings had now reached
their limit, leaped up from the couch and exclaimed to the old
man: "But why did you give up a spot like that, pop? My God,
I would have stayed a hundred years!"
Lacing up his boots, the old man replied without haste: "The
doctors found I had high blood pressure. They ordered me back
to Russia. So I arrived today by the Siberian express."
The bathhouse manager appeared in the doorway. This was a
middle-aged woman in a dark cloth suit. On her jacket lapel hung
Hiding her eyes behind an unfolded newspaper so as not to
disturb the undressed customers, the manager moved along the
dressing room at a rapid pace. Directly behind her minced the thin
man in the unbuttoned tunic.
Approaching the place where everything had happened, the
manager asked loudly: "Where is it? Who? Who has counterfeit
The old man rose from the couch and, casting a fierce glance
at the thin man, said to the manager: "I don't know what kind of
money this midget has, but my money is issued by the state bank.
Here is my bankbook, and in it you can clearly see how much was
credited to my account and just when I drew out this sum with
the exception of thirty-two kopecks."
Having looked through the old man's bankbook, the manager
said: "Everything's in order. Only why in the world did you come
to the bathhouse with money like that?"
The owner of the money replied: "I've been riding in the train
for two weeks I was covered with dust and desperate for a bath.
From the train I went to the hotel, took a room, and put my
things there. But, naturally, I took the money out of my trunk and
took it along with me, so as not to leave it with no one watching."
"Understandable," said the manager. "But you shouldn't have
taken the money out of your account. You should have had it
"They told me about that in the bank," the old man acknowl-
edged. "But I just didn't want to travel separately from my
"Understandable," said the manager once again and turned in
order to make some comment to the undersized man who had so
misinterpreted the event and who had been in such a hurry to see
a crime where in fact there was none. But he had already whisked
over to the couch and was dressing himself there hurriedly.
Once again hiding her eyes behind the newspaper, the manager
withdrew. And then the young attendant hastily asked the old
man: "Well, and how are you going to live now, pop, with all
Laughing, the old man answered: "And what the hell business
is it of yours? No, my son, I have no intention of conversing with
you on this delicate subject."
The elderly buffet attendant, coming out from behind his
counter, said to the old man: "My nephew, Peter Egorkin, asked
you a proper question. We're all extremely interested to know
what you plan to do with your capital."
"What to do? Time will tell," the old man answered evasively,
The buffet attendant, however, went on cross-examining un-
deterred: "But tell us anyway, honored sir, what kind of plans
have you made for yourself?"
Wrapping his package of money up tightly in his dirty linen, the
old man said without marked enthusiasm: "I haven't thought up
any plans yet. In the next few days, however, there are some steps
I want to take. Tomorrow morning, early, I'm going to go put my
money in the bank, and then I'm going to go see if there's a job
for me at the artel where I used to work as a locksmith before I
left. But if, let's say, they won't take me, then I'll go look for a job
in a factory somewhere. In my time I was a craftsman of the
The young attendant exclaimed: "With money like that, you
want to go work in a factory?"
"What has money got to do with it?" the old man answered
angrily. "Money is one thing. But without work, young man, there
is little for me to do. I'm not used to lying in bed twenty-four hours
The attendant laughed soundlessly and said through his laugh-
ter: "It turns out, pop, that you saved money for nothing . . ."
"What do you mean, nothing?" muttered the old man. "I'm
planning to buy half a house outside the city if I can't find an
The buffet attendant remarked: "They'll give you an apartment
if you go to work in a factory. As for half a house would that
take much? Not more than thirty thousand. With your money,
that's a drop in the bucket."
The old man got up from the couch, and, becoming more and
more irritated, said: "Aye, well, money won't hurt me! I'll eat
veal. I'll buy furniture. A phonograph. A piano."
The buffet attendant inhaled noisily and returned to his coun-
ter. The owner of the money, continuing to feel angry, put on his
cap and picked up his wrapped package. The attendant, Peter
Egorkin, unexpectedly even for himself, said to the old man in an
elevated tone: "There are children among us here in the bath-
house! It would seem that with such a pile of money you could
buy them a few candies."
The old man, who had been about to leave, waited. He said:
"Children that's another matter. I will never refuse to help a
friend out of trouble and I will always have a little something for
chilren. Where are the children here?"
The attendant turned to the couch where the young father and
his son had been sitting, but it seemed that they had gone to wash.
The attendant said with indignation: "The children have gone.
They didn't wait."
"Well, if they didn't wait, I'm not going to run after them,"
muttered the old man and made his way to the exit. Then, all of
a sudden he turned around and asked the attendant: "And you
personally, young man, do you have children?"
Smiling, the young attendant replied: "I've got a daughter a-
year-and-a-half old. Preschool age."
The old man went up to the counter and in his fluent tenor, he
asked the buffet attendant: "And what do you have for children?"
"We don't stock anything for children except chocolate," the
buffet attendant answered. "Here is 'Golden Anchor' sixteen
rubles a slab. We also have soybean chocolate at three rubles."
"Let's have the soybean at three rubles," said the old man.
At first, the young attendant refused the gift and even blushed,
but the old man insisted, saying: "I'm not giving it to you, I'm
giving it to your daughter. Only, look, don't eat it yourself. Give
it right to your daughter."
"Why would I eat it?" answered the attendant. "I'll break off a
small piece, naturally, just to taste. But the rest I'll give to my
Giving him change from a ten-ruble note, the buffet attendant
said to the old man: "You decided rightly to work in a factory,
honored sir. When I didn't work for two months, I was in such a
bad mood I didn't know what to do with myself. I couldn't even
sleep. But when I went to work again, then I had good dreams."
"Yes, I don't get on well without work," muttered the old man,
attentively counting his change.
This counting of change, for some reason, offended the buffet
attendant very much. Smiling crookedly, he said to the old man:
"My nephew, Peter Makarovich Egorkin, was absolutely right.
You saved your capital for nothing. It suits you like a saddle on a
cow. All you can do is take it to the bathhouse with you and enter-
Losing his temper, the old man asked: "Do you think I saved
it up out of greediness, or what?"
Scratching a solid wart near his ear, the buffet attendant an-
swered tactfully: "People put money away for different reasons.
Naturally, there are some who save because they're greedy. Others
for their old age, or so they'll be able to buy various things
they wanted. But then there are some who save because they re-
I thought that an answer like that would further anger the old
man, but this did not happen. Smiling broadly, he exclaimed:
"You've gone over them all, master, but you haven't been able
to discover my reason. I'll tell you. Since I was eight, I've dreamed
of saving up a certain sum to free my parents from their constant
need. My parents have been in the everlasting now for almost fifty
years, but this childish little idea of saving money for some reason
has stuck in my head. It has stuck like a splinter which sinks in
more every time I try to pull it out. All my long life, I haven't
succeeded. Now I've saved up. Naturally, I'm glad, I don't
conceal it. But I don't get any real satisfaction out of it. I don't
have anyone to rejoice over it except myself."
This modest answer pleased the buffet attendant, and, while
saying good-bye to him kindly, he said to him in a comforting
way: "Generally speaking, money won't hurt you; there's nothing
to be sad about."
The owner of the money nodded his head affirmatively and
passed through the exit with his bloated package.
BEFORE THE SUN RISES
I thought of writing this book a very long time ago. Immedi-
ately after my Youth Restored saw the light.
I collected materials for this new book for almost ten years
and waited for a peaceful year so I could sit down to write in the
quiet of my study.
But this did not come about.
On the contrary. Twice, German bombs fell near my materials.
The portfolio in which I kept my manuscripts was strewn with
bricks and lime. Fire licked them. And I'm surprised, as things
turned out, that they were preserved.
The collected material flew^with me in an airplane over the
German front, out of besieged Leningrad.
I took twenty heavy notebooks with me. In order to lessen their
weight, I tore off the leather bindings. They still weighed close
to eight kilograms, of the twelve kilograms of baggage allowed
me for the flight. And there was a moment when I went into de-
spair that I had taken this rubbish with me instead of warm
underwear or an extra pair of boots.
Love of literature triumphed, however. I reconciled myself
to my unhappy fate.
In a dark, torn portfolio I carried my manuscripts into central
Asia, to the town of Alma-Ata, blessed from henceforth.
Here I was busy for a whole year writing various scenarios on
themes that were needed in the days of the great Fatherland war.
I kept the material I had brought with me under the wooden
couch on which I slept.
From time to time, I lifted them out of my couch. There, on
the plywood bottom, rested twenty of my notebooks along with a
sack of sweets which I had prepared according to my Leningrad
I paged through these notebooks, regretting bitterly that there
had been no time to take up this work, which seemed so unneces-
sary now, so far removed from the war, from the rumble of artil-
lery and the whistling of bullets.
"It's nothing," I said to myself, "as soon as the war ends, I'll
take up this work."
Once again, I packed away my notebooks in the bottom of my
couch. And lying on them, the question flickered through my
mind: When did I think the war would really be over? Not very
soon, clearly. But when! I could not really come to an answer.
"Well, then, why hasn't the time come for me to take up this
work of mine?" that's the way I was thinking. "But my materials
have to do with the formation of the human intellect, of science,
of the advance of consciousness. My work refutes the 'philosophy'
of Fascism, which says that consciousness visits innumerable ills
on people, that human happiness lies in a return to barbarism, to
savagery, in a denial of civilization."
It might very well be more interesting to read about it now than
at any time in the future.
In August 1942, 1 put my manuscripts on the table, and, with-
out waiting for the war to end, I set to work.
Ten years ago I wrote the novella called Youth Restored.
It was an ordinary novella, one of those the majority of which
are written by writers. But to it were added commentaries notes
of a physiological nature.
These notes explained the behavior of the novella's heroes and
provided the reader with some information on the physiology and
psychology of man.
I did not write Youth Restored for men of science. Nevertheless,
they turned to my work with special interest. There were many
disputes. There were quarrels. I heard many biting remarks. But
some nice things were said, too.
It disturbed me that scholars took issue with me so seriously
and so intensely. That doesn't mean (I thought) that I know a
lot, but rather that science, it seems, has not sufficiently concerned
itself with these problems which I, by virtue of my inexperience,
had the boldness to touch on.
Be that as it may, the scholars discussed matters with me almost
as with an equal. And I even began to receive summonses to the
sessions of the "Brain Institute." And Ivan Petrovich Pavlov in-
vited me to his "meetings."
But I, I repeat, hadn't composed my work for science. This had
been a literary production, and the scientific material had been
only a complementary part.
It always struck me: The painter, before he paints the human
body is obliged of necessity to study anatomy. Only a knowledge
of this science could deliver the painter from mistakes in drawing.
But the writer, into whose compass more than man's body enters
his psyche, his consciousness does not often strive to attain
knowledge of a similar kind. I considered it my obligation to
study something alojig this line. And, having studied, I shared
the results with the reader.
That's the way Youth Restored came about.
Now that ten years have passed, I see very well the defects of
my book: It was incomplete and one-sided. And probably I de-
served to have been attacked more than I actually was.
In the fall of 1934, 1 got to know a remarkable physiologist.
When talk came around to my work, this physiologist said: "I
prefer your usual stories. But I admit that what you write about
should be written about. Studying consciousness isn't only a mat-
ter for the man of science. I suspect that it is as yet even more a
matter for the writer than for the man of science. I am a physiolo-
gist, so I'm not afraid to say it."
I answered: "I think so too. The region of consciousness, the
region of higher psychological activity, belongs more to us than
to you. Man's behavior can and must be studied with the aid of
dogs and lancets. But a man (and a dog, too) sometimes has
fantasies which can in an extraordinary way change the
momentum of his existence even in the course of one and the
same stimulus. And in this sense it might sometimes be neces-
sary to have a 'conversation with a dog' in order to analyze his
dreams in all their complexity. And a 'conversation with a dog'
on the whole that's something in our province."
Smiling, the scientist said: "You're partly right. The cor-
respondence between the intensity of the stimulus and the response
is often disproportionate, especially in the field of sensation. But
if you have pretensions in this province, you really must expect
to run into us there."
After this conversation, some years passed. Having learned
that I was working on a new book, the physiologist asked me to
tell him about this work.
I said: "In brief, it's a book about how I survived many un-
necessary sorrows and became a happy man."
"Will this be a treatise or a novel?"
"It will be a literary work. Science will enter into it, as in other
cases history enters into a novel."
"Will there be commentaries again?"
"No. This will be something integral. Like a gun and shell
can be a single whole."
"Will this work be about yourself?"
"Half the book will be occupied with my person. I will not
conceal from you the fact that this troubles me."
"You'll be telling about your life?"
"No. Worse than that. I will tell about things that it isn't
entirely acceptable to talk about in novels. It comforts me that it
will deal with the years of my youth. That's the same as talking
about the dead."
'To what age will you go, in your book?"
"Roughly to thirty."
"Maybe it would be a good idea to add another fifteen years.
Then the book would be fuller about your whole life."
"No," I said. "From thirty on, I was quite a different man
no longer an appropriate subject for my work."
"How did such a change come about?"
"One can't even call it a change. It's an entirely different life,
and it doesn't at all resemble the former one."
"But in what way? Was this psychoanalysis? Freud?"
"Not at all. It was Pavlov. I used his principle. It was his idea."
"But what did you do yourself?"
"Essentially, I did a very simple thing. I collected those things
which disturbed me incorrect conditioned reflexes, which had
been mistakenly ingrained in my consciousness. I destroyed the
false connection between them. I dissected the 'temporary con-
nections,' as Pavlov called them."
"In what way?"
At that time I had not fully thought through my materials and
therefore found it difficult to answer this question. But concerning
the principle, I answered. True, I was very foggy.
Having pondered my reply, the man of science answered: "Go
ahead and write. But don't promise people anything."
I said: "I'll be careful. I will promise only that which I've
already achieved. And only to those people who have qualities
close to mine."
Laughing, the scientist said: "That's not much. And it's right.
Tolstoi's philosophy, for example, was useful only to him, and to
I answered: "Tolstoi's philosophy was religion, not science.
It was faith which helped him. I stand far from religion. I do not
speak of faith or of a philosophical system. I speak of iron rules,
confirmed by a great scholar. My part in this matter is a modest
one: by the proof of a man's life I have verified these rules, and
I have connected things which seemed not to have any con-
I said good-bye to the scientist and I have not seen him since.
He probably came to the conclusion that I gave up my book, never
really coming to terms with it.
But I as I have already explained was only waiting for a
year of peace and quiet.
This did not come to pass. It's too bad. I write badly to the
sound of artillery. Beauty will undoubtedly be diminished. My
agitation will make the style shaky. Alarms will stifle clear-sighted
knowledge. Nervousness will be taken for haste. There will be
seen in this a lack of caution with regard to science, a lack of
respect for the world of scholarship . . ,
Where you see my speech uncivil
Root it out, I give permission.
May the enlightened reader forgive my trespasses.
//. / AM UNHAPPY AND DON'T KNOW WHY
When I recall my early years, I am struck by the number of
sorrows, false alarms, and fits of melancholy that I had.
The very best years of my youth were underlined in black.
When I was a child, I experienced nothing like that.
But my very first steps as a young man were overshadowed by
this amazing melancholy which I do not know how to describe.
I strove toward people, life pleasured me, I sought friends,
love, happy meetings . . . But I found no comfort for myself in
any of this. It all turned to dust in my hands. Spleen pursued me
at every step.
I was unhappy without knowing why.
But I was eighteen years old, and so I found an explanation.
"The world is terrible' 9 I thought. "People are base. Their
actions are comic. I'm not a ram from that flock."
Over my desk I hung a quatrain from Sophocles:
The highest gift is never to be born,
But if you've seen the light of day
The second best is a quick return
To the native dark from which you made your way.
Naturally, I knew that there were other ways of looking at
things happy ones, sometimes even enthusiastic. But I did not
respect people who were able to dance to the coarse and vulgar
music of life. Such people seemed to me on a level with savages
Everything that I saw around me strengthened my point of
Poets wrote mournful verses and took pride in their melancholy.
My favorite philosophers also spoke of melancholy with
respect. "Melancholies are possessed by a feeling of exaltation,"
wrote Kant. And Aristotle considered that "the melancholic frame
of spirit assists profundity of thought and accompanies genius."
But poets and philosophers were not the only ones who were
throwing wood on my pallid bonfire. It may seem surprising, but
in my time sadness was considered the sign of a thinking person.
In my milieu, broody melancholic types were respected and even
those who were quite alienated from life.*
Briefly speaking, I came to consider that a pessimistic view of
life was the only possible one for a man who was thoughtful,
refined, and born into the gentry class, which was my origin.
That means, I thought, melancholy is my normal condition, and
mournfulness and a certain disdain for life are the qualities of
my mind. And apparently not only of my mind. Apparently of
any mind, any consciousness, that strives to be higher than that
of an animal.
* Not long ago, paging through Bryusov's Diary, I found these lines: "Dear
laroshenko. A sweet man. Strange to life . . ."
Very sad to be that way, but that's probably the way it is. In
nature, coarse fibers win out. Coarse emotions, primitive ideas are
victorious. Everything that has been delicately made goes to ruin.
So thought I, when I was eighteen. And I will not conceal from
you that I still thought so even considerably later.
But I was mistaken. And now I am happy to inform you about
this terrible mistake of mine.
At that time, this mistake almost cost me my life.
I wanted to die because I saw no other way out.
In the fall of 1914 the World War began, and I gave up the
university and went off to the army so I could go to the front for
the distinction of dying for my country, for my motherland.
In the war, however, I almost ceased to experience melancholy.
It happened from time to time. But it soon passed. And in the
war I felt myself almost happy, for the first time.
I thought: Why should this be? I arrived at the notion that it
was because I had found excellent comrades here, and that was
why I had ceased glooming. It was logical.
I served in the Mingrelsky Regiment of the Caucasian
Grenadiers Division. We lived in a very friendly way. Both
soldiers and officers. At least; that's the way it seemed to me then.
At the age of nineteen I was already a lieutenant.
At the age of twenty I had five medals and was recommended
for promotion to captain.
But this didn't mean that I was a hero. It meant that for two
years in a row I was in the front lines.
I took part in many battles, was wounded, poisoned by gas. My
heart went bad. Nevertheless, my happy mood was almost con-
At the beginning of the Revolution I returned to Petrograd.
I had no regrets for the past. On the contrary, I wanted to see
a new Russia, not like the mournful country I had known. I
wanted there to be around me healthy, blossoming people, not
such as myself inclined to spleen, melancholy, and sorrow.
I didn't go through any of the so-called "social divergences."
Nevertheless, I began to experience melancholy as before.
I tried to change towns and professions. I wanted to escape
from that terrible melancholy of mine. I felt it was destroying me.
I went to Archangel. Then, on the frozen sea to Mezen. Then,
I returned to Petrograd. I went to Novgorod, to Pskov. Then, to
Smolensk province, to the town of Krasny. Once again I returned
to Petrograd . . .
Spleen followed at my heels.
In three years I changed towns twelve times and professions
I was a policeman, a bookkeeper, a shoemaker, an instructor
in poultry husbandry, a telephone operator for the border guard,
a detective, the secretary of a court, a clerk-expediter.
This wasn't on account of hard times, this was on account of
confusion. For half a year I went to the front again in the Red
Army at Narva and Yamburg.
But I had a bad heart from poison gas and I was obliged to
think of a new profession.
In 1921 1 started to write stories.
From the time that I became a writer, my life changed very
much. But spleen remained as before. Moreover, it attacked me
Then I had recourse to doctors. In addition to spleen, I had
something wrong with my heart, something with my stomach,
something with my liver.
The doctors went at me, energetically.
They began to treat me for three of my illnesses with pills and
water. For the most part with water inside and out.
It was decided to drive off the spleen with a combined blow
at once from all four sides: flanks, rear, and front by trips,
sea-bathing, Charcot sprays, and the amusements so necessary
to my tender years.
I began to go to sanatorium^ twice a year to Yalta,
Kislovodsk, Sochi, and other blessed places.
In Sochi I got to know a certain man whose melancholy was
significantly greater than mine. Twice a year at the minimum he
was extracted from the noose into which he had shoved his head
because an unmotivated melancholy tormented him.
With a feeling of the greatest respect, I began to converse with
this man. I assumed I would see wisdom, intellect, an over-
abundance of knowledge, the scornful smile of genius which is
forced to drag along on our transient earth.
I saw nothing of the kind.
This was a narrow-minded man, uneducated, without even the
shadow of enlightenment. He had read no more than two books
in his entire life. And he wasn't interested in anything except
money, food, and women.
Before me was the most commonplace man, with vulgar
thoughts and vacuous desires.
I didn't even grasp immediately that that's the way it was. At
first it seemed to me that the room was smoky, or that the
barometer had fallen and a storm was brewing. Because some-
thing didn't seem quite right when I was talking to him. Then I
look it's just that he's a fool. Simply a dunderhead with whom
it was impossible to talk for more than three minutes.
My philosophical system gave a shudder. I grasped the fact
that it was not exclusively a matter of a high degree of con-
sciousness. But what, then? I did not know.
With the greatest humility I gave myself up into the hand of
In two years I consumed half a ton of powders and pills.
I drank every nauseating mess.
I allowed myself to be cut, x-rayed, and imprisoned in baths.
But cure did not follow. And things went even so far that my
friends no longer recognized me on the street. I got terribly thin.
I was like a skeleton with a little skin stretched over it. I became
terribly stiff. My hands trembled, and even the doctors were
astonished at the yellowness of my skin. They had begun to suspect
that I had hypochondria to such a degree as to render their
methods useless. What I needed was hypnosis and a clinic.
One of the doctors succeeded in hypnotizing me. He began to
suggest to me, once I was hypnotized, that I languished and
mourned in vain, that everything was well in the world and there
was no reason for such grief.
For two days I felt a considerable lift, then I became consider-
ably worse than I had been before.
I almost ceased to emerge from my house. Every new day
found me in the dumps.
I ceased to go to sanatoriums. Closer to the truth, I went and
languished there for two or three days, and then went home again
in a more fearful melancholy than when I had arrived.
Then I turned to books. I was a young writer. Only twenty-
seven years old. It was natural that I should turn to my great
comrades writers, composers ... I wanted to know if they had
gone through anything similar. If they had not experienced a
melancholy similar to mine. And if they had, what reasons, what
motivations they assigned to it. And what they did to get rid of it.
And then I began to note down everything that related to
spleen. I took these notes without any special system or plan. I
did, however, try to select that which was characteristic for a
given man, that which turned up often in his life, that which did
not seem accidental, a moment's fancy, an outburst.
These notes engaged my imagination for several years.
[There follows a number of melancholy quotations from
Chopin, Gogol, Nekrasov, Poe, Flaubert, Saltykov-Shchedrin, De
Maupassant, Bryusov, and Tolstoi.]
I filled a whole notebook with similar notes. They struck me,
even shook me. But I had deliberately not selected people whose
lives had been particularly touched by a particular sorrow, mis-
fortune or death. I chose a condition that repeated itself. I chose
those people of whom many said themselves that they didn't
understand where this mood came from.
I was struck, bemused. What kind of suffering was this to which
people were subject? And how to come to grips with it, by what
Maybe this suffering is the result of a disharmony in the life
around us, of social griefs, world problems? Maybe this is the
basis for such melancholy?
Yes, it is so. But at this point I recalled the words of Cherny-
shevski: "It isn't because of world problems that people drown
themselves, shoot themselves, and go out of their minds."
These words disturbed me even more.
I could find no solution. I did not understand.
Could it be, after all (I thought once again), this is a scorn for
the world to which great men are subjected by virtue of their
higher degree of consciousness?
No! Along with these great men whom I listed, I saw no fewer
great men who experienced no such melancholy, although their
consciousness was on as high a level. And sometimes it was even
During an evening dedicated to Chopin, they played his second
concerto for piano and orchestra.
I sat in the last rows, exhausted, tormented.
But the second concerto drove off my melancholy. The power-
ful, masculine sounds filled the hall.
Joy, struggle, extraordinary force, and even triumph resounded
in the concerto's third part.
Where did this weak man get this immense force this com-
poser of genius whose sad life I knew so well by now? Where did
he get such joy, such enthusiasm? Does it mean that all this was
in him? Only constrained? By what?
At this point I thought of my own stories, which made people
laugh. I thought of laughter, which was in my books but not in
I will not conceal it from you: I was frightened. Then suddenly
the idea came to me that I had to find the reason why my forces
were constrained, and why I found life so unhappy; and why there
are people like myself in the world, inclined to brooding and
In the fall of 1926 I braced myself to go to Yalta. And I
braced myself to stay there for four weeks.
For ten days I lay in my hotel room. Then I went out for a
stroll. I walked into the mountains. And sometimes I sat for hours
at the seashore, rejoicing that I was better, that I was almost well.
For a month I improved a lot. My spirit grew calm, even gay.
In order to strengthen my health still further, I decided to
continue my rest. I bought a boat ticket for Batum. From Batum I
wanted to go to Moscow byxlirect train.
I took a separate cabin. And in a marvelous mood, I left Yalta.
The sea was calm, without a murmur. And I sat on the deck all
day admiring the Crimean shore and the sea, which I loved so
much and for the sake of which I usually went to Yalta.
In the morning, still scarcely light, I was on deck again.
A wonderful dawn broke.
I sat in the chaise longue, relishing my excellent mood. My
thoughts were the happiest, they were gay. I thought of my trip,
of Moscow, of friends I would meet there. Of the fact that my
melancholy was now behind me. And let it remain a riddle, as
long as it bothered me no more.
It was early morning. Thoughtfully, I gazed out at the light
ripple of the water, at the patches of sunlight, at the sea gulls
who sat on the water with a loathsome squawking.
And suddenly, in a single moment, I felt bad. This wasn't
simply melancholy. It was agitation, quivering, almost terror. I
could scarcely get up from the chaise longue. I barely reached my
cabin. And for two hours I lay on my bunk without moving. And,
once again, melancholy arose, of an intensity that I had not yet
I tried to struggle with it. I went out on deck. I started listening
to people's conversations. I wanted to cast it off. But I did not
It seemed as though I should not and could not continue the
journey any farther.
I could hardly wait for the stop at Tuapse. I went ashore with
the intention of continuing on my way after a few days.
A nervous fever shook me.
I took a trolley to a hotel. And there I lay down.
It was only after a week that I recovered my will and began to
prepare myself for the road.
The road diverted me. I began to feel better. The terrible
It was a long way, and I began to think of my unfortunate
illness, which could vanish so swiftly and reappear in the same
way. Why? What were the reasons?
It was as if there weren't any reasons. Must be simply "weak
nerves," an excess of "feeling." Must be. It happens all the time
and sends me swinging like a pendulum.
I started to think: Was I born that weak and emotional, or did
something happen in my life that undermined my nerves, cor-
rupted them, and turned me into an unfortunate flake of dust,
driven and shaken by every wind?
And suddenly it struck me that I could not have been bora so
unhappy, so defenseless. I might have been born weak, fragile, I
might have been born with one arm, one eye, without an ear. But
to have been born to brood and to brood without reason just be-
cause the world seems base! But I'm no Martian. I'm a child of
my own planet. I must, like any animal, feel some joy in existence.
Experience happiness, if all goes well. And struggle, if it goes
badly. But to brood?! When even an insect that has only four
hours to live rejoices in the sun! No, I could not have been born
such a monster.
And suddenly I understood clearly that the reason for my mis-
fortunes must be contained in my life. No doubt something hap-
pened, something took place that acted on me in this oppressive
But what? And when did it happen? And how to find this un-
fortunate event? How to find this reason for my melancholy?
Then I thought: I have to recall my life. And feverishly I
began to recall. But immediately I grasped that nothing would
come of this if I did not introduce some kind of system into my
There is no need to recall everything, I thought. Only to recall
the most powerful, the most striking things. It should be sufficient
to recall those things which I associate with my spiritual distress.
That was the only way I could solve the riddle.
And then I began to recall the most striking pictures that had
remained in my memory. And I noticed that my memory had
preserved them with unusual precision. Trifles had been pre-
served, details, colors, even smells.
Spiritual distress, like a magnesium flare, illuminated all that
had occurred. These were candid photographs which remained in
With unusual agitation I began to study these photographs. I
noted that they agitated me even more than the desire to find the
reason for my misfortunes.
///. FALLEN LEAVES
The yard. I'm playing football. I'm bored playing, but I still
play, furtively glancing up at a second-floor window. My heart
contracts from melancholy.
Tata T. lives there. She's grown up. She's twenty-three years
old. She has an old husband. He's forty. We high-school kids are
always teasing him when he comes home from work, a little
And so the window opens. Tata T. adjusts her hairdo, stretch-
ing and yawning.
Seeing me, she smiles.
Ah, she's very fine. She's like a young tigress from the zoo
such striking, flashing, blinding colors. I almost can't bear to
look at her.
Smiling, Tata T. says to me: "Mishenka, come on up here for a
My heart gives a happy leap, but, without lifting my eyes, I
answer: "You can see, I'm busy. I'm playing football."
"Then hold out your hat. I'll throw you something."
I hold out my school hat. And Tata T. throws a small package
into it, wrapped in ribbon. It's chocolate.
I toss the chocolate into my pocket and I go on playing.
At home, I eat the chocolate. And the ribbon after touching
it to my cheek for a moment, I toss it on the table.
AN AUTHENTIC COPY
Getting out of school, I meet the realist Serezha K. He is a
tall, blond, despondent youth.
Nervously smacking his lips, he says to me: "Yesterday, I broke
off with Valka P. once and for all. And just think, she asked me to
return all her letters."
"Then you should return them," I say.
"Naturally, I'll give her letters back," says Serezha. "But I
want to keep a copy . . . What's more, I'd like to ask a favor of
you. I need you to confirm these copies . . ."
"What for?" I ask.
"Well, just in case," says Serezha, "she might say she never
loved me at all ... But if there are confirmed copies . . ."
We approach Serezha's house. Serezha is the son of the fire-
chief. Therefore, his place has a certain attraction for me.
Serezha puts three letters on the table and the three copies he
has already made.
I do not feel like signing the copies, but Serezha insists. He
says: "We're not kids any more. Our childhood's past ... I beg
you to sign."
Without reading them, I write on each sheet: "An authentic
copy." I sign my name.
As a token of his appreciation, Serezha takes me into the yard;
and, there, he shows me the emergency ladder and the fire hoses,
which are drying in the sun.
I'm hurrying for matins. I'm standing in front of the mirror
dressed in my school uniform. In my left hand I'm holding a pair
of white kid gloves. With my right hand I'm adjusting the astonish-
ing parting of my hair.
I am not especially pleased with my appearance. Very young.
At sixteen, I should look older.
Carelessly flinging a cloak around my shoulders I go out to the
Tata T. is climbing up the stairs.
She looks surprisingly well today, in her short wool jacket, with
a muff in her hands.
"Aren't you going to church?" I ask.
"No, we're entertaining at home," she says, smiling. And
coming up closer, she adds: "Christ is arisen! . . . Mishenka . . ."
"It isn't midnight yet," I mutter.
Throwing her arms around my neck, Tata T. kisses me.
This was not three Easter kisses. This was one long kiss that
lasted a minute. I begin to grasp that this is not a Christian kiss.
At first, I have a feeling of joy, then surprise, then I laugh.
"Why do you laugh?" she asks.
"I didn't know people kissed like that."
"People don't, you idiot," she says. "Men and women do!"
Her hand caresses my face and she kisses my eyes. Then, hear-
ing someone knocking at the door by her apartment, she rushes
up the stairs beautiful and mysterious, really such as I would
always wish to love.
IN THE UNIVERSITY
At the gate there's a police officer. Since I don't have a ticket,
he asks me to show my student registration. I show my documents.
"Go on in," he says.
In the yard there are armed soldiers and police.
Today is the anniversary of Tolstoi's death.
I walk along the university corridor. Here, there is noise, fuss,
Prutchenko, the warden of the school district, is walking
slowly along the corridor. He is tall, broadly built, red-faced. On
the white shirt front under his uniform there are small diamond
Around the warden there is a living wall of students. These
are students from the academic corporation, "white linings."
Hand in hand, they formed a chain around the warden; they
are protecting him from possible excesses. A long-faced pimply
Uudent in uniform, with a sword at his side, takes command
and fusses more than anyone.
Hellish noise all around. Someone shouts: 'They led an
elephant along the street." Jokes. Laughter.
The warden slowly moves forward. The living wall respect-
fully moves along with him.
A student appears. He's short. Not handsome. But his face
looks surprisingly intelligent, energetic.
Approaching the wall, he comes to a stop. Involuntarily, the
wall with the warden inside comes to a stop, too.
Raising his hand, the student asks for silence.
When it gets quieter, the student shouts, emphasizing every
word: "We have two misfortunes in Russia: the power of dark-
ness below; and, above, the darkness of power."
An outburst of applause. Laughter.
The long-faced student grasps the hilt of his sword for effect.
The warden mutters wearily: "It's not necessary, stop . . ."
The student with the sword says to someone: "Find out what
that boor's name is . . ."
I'm walking along past the freight cars. In my hands I have a
My ticket punch has been working for half a month.
It's the chic branch line, Kislovodsk-Mineral Waters, served
in the summer by students. And that's why I'm here in the
Caucasus. I came here to earn a little money.
Kislovodsk. I go out on the platform. At the entrance to the
station there's an immense gendarme with medals on his chest.
He is massive, like a monument.
Bowing politely and smiling, the ticket seller approaches me.
"Colleague," he says to me (although he is not a student), "a
word with you . . . Next time don't punch the tickets with your
punch, but return them to me . . ."
He pronounces these words calmly, as though he were talking
about the weather.
Perplexed, I mutter: "What for? ... So you can ... sell them
again? . . .
"Well, yes ... I have an understanding with almost all your
friends . . . Half and half."
"Scoundrel! . . . You lie!" I mutter. "With all?"
The ticket seller shrugs his shoulders.
"Well, not with all," he says, "but with a lot ... And what
surprises you so? Everybody does it ... Why, I could hardly
live on my thirty-six rubles a month ... I don't even consider
it a crime. They egg us on to this . . ."
I turn sharply and leave. The ticket seller runs after me.
"Colleague," he says, "if you don't want to, you don't have to,
I don't insist . . . only don't think of telling anybody about it. In
the first place, no one will believe you. In the second place, it's
impossible to prove. In the third place, you'll pass for a liar, a
troublemaker . . ."
Slowly, I mutter my way home . . . It's raining . . .
I am more surprised than at any time in my life.
The station stop Minutka. I have a quiet room with windows on
My peace and quiet do not last long. In the neighboring room
there enters, just having arrived from Penza, the circus performer
Elvira. On her passport she is called Nastia Gorokhova.
This robust person is almost illiterate.
In Penza she had a brief romance with a general. The general
had gone off with his wife to the "sour waters" [Kislovodsk]
Elvira arrived after him it isn't known what she was counting
All Elvira's thoughts from morning to night are oriented in
the direction of the unfortunate general.
Showing her arms, which under the circus tent had supported
three men, Elvira says to me: "Generally speaking, I could kill
him without blinking an eye. And I wouldn't get more than eight
years for it either . . . What do you think?"
"But really, what is it you want from him?" I ask her.
"What do you mean what?" says Elvira. "I came here entirely
for his sake. I'm living here for almost a month, and like a fool
I'm crying my eyes out. I want he should be decent enough to pay
my train fare both ways. I want to write him a letter about this."
Because of Elvira's illiteracy, I write this letter. I'm inspired.
The hope guides my hand that Elvira, once she's received the
money, will leave for Penza.
I don't remember what I wrote. I only remember that when I
read this letter to Elvira, she said: "Yes! That's the outcry of a
woman's soul . . . And I'll kill him immediately if he doesn't
send me anything after this."
My letter turned the general inside out. And he sent Elvira an
enclosure of fifty rubles. That was an immense and even a
grandiose sum in those days.
v Elvira was stunned.
"With money like that," she said, "it would just be dumb to
She remained. And she remained with the notion that I was the
sole reason for her wealth.
She almost never left my room.
It was just as well that the World War began soon after that.
Two soldiers are butchering a pig. The pig is squealing so, one
cannot bear it. I come up closer.
One soldier is sitting on the pig. The hand of the other, armed
with a knife, skillfully rips open the belly. The white lard of that
unbounded fatness spills out on both sides.
The squealing is such, one has to stop one's ears.
"You might stun her with something, brothers," I say. "Why
shred her up like that?"
"Impossible, your excellency," says the first soldier, sitting on
the pig. "It wouldn't have the same taste."
Seeing my silver sword and the emblem on my shoulder straps,
the soldier jumps up. The pig breaks loose.
"Sit, sit," I say, "just finish up as quick as you can."
"Quick isn't good either," says the soldier with the knife. "If
you're too quick, you spoil the fat."
After looking at me with compassion, the first soldier says:
"Your excellency, it's war! People are suffering. And you feel
sorry for a pig."
The second soldier says, after having made a final gesture with
the knife: "Nerves, their excellencies have."
The conversation is assuming an overly familiar tone. This
won't do. I want to leave, but I don't.
The first soldier says: "In the Avgustovsky forests, I had a
bone shattered in this hand. To the operating table, right away.
Half a glass of liquor. They cut. But I'm eating sausage while they
"And weren't you sick?"
"How not sick? Damn sick ... I ate the sausage. I say, 'Give me
some cheese.' I'd just eaten the cheese, and the surgeon says,
Tinished, let's sew it up.' 'Please,' I say ... What would you have
done, your excellency? You wouldn't have been able to stand
"Weak nerves, their excellencies have," the second soldier says
REGIMENT IN A BOX
The regiment, stretched along the highway. The soldiers are
worn out, exhausted. For the second day, almost without resting,
we are plodding along the fields of Galicia.
We are retreating. We don't have any ammunition.
The regimental commander orders us to sing songs.
The machine gunners, on their prancing horses, are singing:
"Along the ocean's blue waves."
On all sides we hear shooting, explosions. One has the impres-
sion that we are in a box.
We pass through a village. The soldiers run to the huts. We
have an order to destroy everything on the highway.
It's a dead village. No point in feeling sorry. There isn't a
soul here. There aren't even any dogs. There isn't even one of
those chickens that usually scratch around deserted villages.
The grenadiers run up to the small huts and set fire to their
straw roofs. Smoke lifts upward to the sky.
And, suddenly, in a moment, the dead village comes to life.
Women are running, children. Men appear. Cows bellow. Horses
neigh. We hear outcries, weeping, and squealing.
I see how one soldier, who has just set fire to a roof, confusedly
snuffs it out with his cap.
I turn aside. We go on.
We go on till evening. And then we go on by night. All around,
the glow of fires. Shots. Explosions.
Toward morning, the regimental commander says: "Now I
can say it. For two days our regiment has been in a box. Tonight
we got out of it."
We drop down on the grass, and, immediately, we are asleep.
MADE IT FOR NOTHING
As a courier, I approach the high gate. This is division staff
I'm nervous and alarmed. The collar of my field jacket is
ohdone. My cap is on the back of my head.
Dismounting from my horse, I walk through the gate.
The staff officer, Lieutenant Zadlovsky, approaches me head-
long. He speaks through set teeth: "That's no way . . . Button up
I button my collar and straighten my cap.
Staff officers are standing near the saddled horses.
I see the division commander among them, General Gabaev,
and the chief of staff, Colonel Shaposhnikov.
"I know," the general says irritably.
"What message shall I take back to my commander, your
"Take this . . ."
I feel some insult is on the tip of the general's tongue, but he
The officers glance around. The chief of staff is almost laughing.
"Take this back . . . Well, what can I send back to a man who
has lost his regiment? . . . You made it here for nothing . . ."
I leave, embarrassed.
Again, I go galloping off on my horse. And suddenly I see the
commander of my regiment. He is tall and thin. He's holding his
cap in his hands. The wind stirs his side whiskers. He stands in
the field and tries to restrain the soldiers who are making off.
These soldiers are not from our regiment. The commander runs up
to each one with a shout and a prayer.
The soldiers walk submissively to the edge of the forest. I see
our reserve battalion there, and a train of carts.
I approach the officers. The regimental commander is ap-
proaching them too. He mutters: "My glorious Mingrelsky Regi-
ment has been destroyed."
Hurling his cap to the ground, the commander stamps his foot
We comfort him. We say that we have five hundred men left.
That's not just a few. We'll have a regiment again.
COME BACK TOMORROW
At the entrance I meet Tata T. She is so beautiful and so
dazzling that I turn my eyes away from her as from the sun.
Seeing me, she laughs. She examines my figure with curiosity
and touches the silver hilt of my sword. Then she says that I'm
quite grown up now and that it isn't even nice for us to be seen
together like this. Right away there would be gossip.
We climb the stairs.
Tata adjusts her hair in the mirror. I come up to her and
embrace her. She laughs. She is surprised that I've become so bold.
She embraces me as she once did on the staircase.
We kiss. Compared to this, the whole world strikes me as worth-
less. She, too, is oblivious to what is going on around us.
Then she looks at her watch and gives a little screech of terror.
She says: "My husband's coming any minute."
And, at that moment, the door opens and her husband enters.
Tata scarcely manages to adjust her hairdo.
The husband sits down in an armchair and looks at us silently.
Without losing her presence of mind, Tata says: "Nicholas, just
look at him, how he's grown. Why he just this moment arrived
from the front."
Smiling sourly, the husband looks at me.
The conversation gets nowhere. So, bowing ceremoniously, I
take my leave. Tata accompanies me.
Opening the door to the staircase, she whispers to me: "Come
back tomorrow at noon. He leaves at eleven."
I nod my head silently.
Her husband's face and his sour smile do not leave my mind
that whole day.
In the morning I send Tata a note that I'm leaving right away
for the front.
In the evening I leave for Moscow. I spend a few days there,
and return to my regiment.
THE TWENTIETH OF JULY
I'm standing in the trenches and looking curiously at the ruins
around me. This is Smorgon. The right wing of our regiment rests
against the kitchen gardens of Smorgon.
This little place is not without renown. It was from here that
Napoleon took flight, turning over his command to Murat.
It's getting dark. I return to my hut.
A stifling July night. Removing my field jacket, I write letters.
It's already close to one. I need to get some sleep. I want to
call my orderly. But, suddenly, I hear some kind of noise. The
noise grows. I hear footfalls. And the clinking of pots. But no
outcries. And no shooting.
I run out of my hut. And, suddenly, a sweet, stifling wave
engulfs me. I cry out: "Gas! . . . Masks! . . ." And I fling myself
back into the hut. My gas mask is hanging there on a nail.
The candle had gone out when I had rushed headlong out of
the hut. I groped for the gas mask with my hand and began to
put it on. I forgot to open the lower stopper. I'm suffocating. Once
having opened the stopper, I run out into the trenches.
Around me, soldiers are running, bandaging up their faces
with masks of gauze.
Having fumbled up some matches from my pocket, I light the
brushwood which is lying in front of the trenches. This brush-
wood has been prepared earlier. In case of gas attack.
Now the fire illuminates our positions. I see that all the grena-
diers have gotten out of the trenches and are lying beside the
bushes. I am also lying near a bush. I don't feel well. My head is
spinning. I swallowed a lot of gas when I shouted: "Masks!"
Near the bush, things go a little more easily. Even quite well.
The fire drives the gas upward, and it passes away without im-
mersing us. I take off my mask.
We lie there four hours.
It begins to grow light. Now it is apparent how the gas is
proceeding. It is not a solid wall. It is a cloud of smoke about
ten yards wide. Slowly it moves upon us, driven by a gentle breeze.
We could go off to the right or to the left, and then the gas
would move on past without touching us.
Now it is not terrifying. From somewhere I already hear jokes
and laughter. It is the grenadiers pushing one another into
puffs of gas. A racket. Laughter.
I look at the German side through my binoculars. Now I see
how they're letting the gas out of cylinders. It's a repulsive
spectacle. Anger flares up in me when I see how methodically and
cold-bloodedly they are doing it.
I order my men to open fire on those scoundrels. I order them
to fire all machine guns and small arms, though I understand well
enough that we can do little harm at this distance of about fifteen
There is a weak burst. The grenadiers fire a few shots. And
suddenly I see that many soldiers are lying dead. And they are
the majority. Others are groaning and are unable to lift themselves
from out of the brush fire.
I hear the sounds of a bugle in the German trenches. The
poisoners are blowing retreat. The gas attack is over.
Leaning on a stick, I make my way to the hospital. There's
blood on my handkerchief from a terrifying fit of retching.
I walk along the road. I see the yellowed grass and a hundred
dead sparrows that have fallen on the road.
The editorial offices of the literary journal Sovremennik.
I had given this journal five of my best small stories. And I
had come for an answer.
Before me is one of the editors the poet, M. Kuzmin. He is
polite to the point of courtliness. Even beyond the call of duty.
But I see by his face that he intends to communicate something
He hesitates. I come to his aid.
"Probably my stories don't quite fit in with the journal's plan?"
He says: "You understand, this is a literary journal . . . But
your stories . . . No, they are very funny, amusing . . . But they are
written . . . But this . . ."
"Rubbish? Is that what you want to say," I ask. And I see in
my mind's eye the comment a teacher had once written on a
high-school composition of mine: "Rubbish."
Kuzmin makes an open gesture with his hands.
"God forbid. I didn't want to say that at all. On the contrary.
Your stories show a great deal of talent . . . But you'll agree your-
self they lean a bit to caricature."
"No. Not caricature," I say.
"Well, take the language you use, for example . . ."
'The language isn't a caricature. That's the syntax of the
street ... of the people ... I heightened it, maybe, just a little,
so it would be satiric, so it would criticize . . ."
"Let's not argue," says he softly. "Give us one of your con-
ventional novelle or stories . . . And, rest assured, we think very
highly of your work."
I leave the office. I do not have the same feelings I had in high
school. I am not even indignant.
"God help them," I think. "I'll make out without literary
journals. They need something 'conventional.' They need some-
thing that looks like a classic. That imposes itself on them. It
would be easy enough to do. But I'm not about to write for
readers who don't exist. The people have a different view of
I am not grieved. I know I am right.
MYSELF TO BLAME
Evening. I'm walking along the Nevsky with K.
I got to know her in Kislovodsk.
She is pretty, gay, she has wit. She has that joy in living which
I lack. And perhaps this attracts me to her more than anything
We walk tenderly arm in arm. We go out along the Neva. We
walk along the dark path of the shore.
K. is saying something that has no end. But I don't pay much
attention to what she is saying. I hear her words as music.
But then I hear something I don't quite like in this music. I
listen more closely.
"This is the second week I've been walking the streets with
you," she says. "We've been all over these stupid shores and parks.
I'd just like to sit down with you in a parlor somehow, and chatter
and drink tea."
"Let's go to a caf," I say.
"No. We'd be seen there."
Ah, yes, I'd quite forgotten. She leads a complicated life. A
jealous husband, a very jealous lover. Many enemies who would
report they had seen us together.
We remain on the shore. We embrace one another. We kiss.
She mutters: "Och, how dumb it is that this is a street."
We walk a little and kiss again. She puts her hand over her
eyes. These endless kisses are making her head spin.
We come to the gate of some house. K. mutters: "I've got to
go in here, to the dressmaker. You wait for me here. I'm only
going to have a dress measured, and I'll be right back."
I walk around near the house. I walk for ten minutes, fifteen,
finally she appears. She's gay. She's laughing.
"Everything's all right," she says. "I'm getting a very nice
dress. It's very modest, without pretensions."
She takes me by the hand and I accompany her home. I meet
her again five days later. She says: "If you wish, we can be alone
together in a house today. It belongs to a friend of mine."
We approach some house. I recognize this house. It was here
at the gate that I waited for her for twenty minutes. This is the
house where her dressmaker lives.
We go up to the fourth floor. She opens the apartment with
her key. We enter a room. It's a very well laid-out room. It's
unlikely that this room belongs to a dressmaker.
From professional habit, I page through a book I find on the
night table. On the first page I see a name that's known to me.
It's the name of K.'s lover.
"Yes, we're in his room," she says. "But don't worry. He's gone
to Kronstadt for two days."
"Ugh!" I say, "I'm worried about something else. That means
you were with him then?"
"When?" she asks.
"When I was waiting for you at the gate for twenty minutes."
She laughs. She closes my mouth with a kiss. She says: "You
had only yourself to blame."
THE TRAIN WAS LATE
Alia came to me all out of breath. She said: "He almost
wouldn't let me go ... I say, 'Oh, come on, Nicholas, I've got
to see my best friend off. She's leaving for Moscow and God
knows when she'll return
I asked Alia: "When does the train leave with that friend of
She laughed and clapped her hands.
"So you see," she said, "you believed it, too ... No one is
leaving. I thought it up so I could come to you."
"The Moscow train leaves at ten-thirty," I said. "That means
you've got to be home around eleven."
By the time she looked at her watch, it was already twelve. She
gave a little cry. She ran to the telephone without even putting
on her slippers.
Taking off the phone, she sat down in an armchair. She was
trembling from the cold and from agitation.
I tossed her a small rug. She covered her feet with it.
"Why are you calling?" I told her. "Better get dressed as quick
as you can and go."
She waved her hand at me indignantly.
"Nick, dear," she said into the phone. "Just think, the train
was late and didn't leave till now. I'll be home in ten minutes."
I don't know what her husband said to her, but she answered:
"I told you in plain Russian the train was late. I'll be home
Must have been, the husband said, it's twelve o'clock.
"Is it really?" she said. "Well, I don't know, by your watch,
but here at the station . . ."
She turned her head upward and gazed at my ceiling.
"Here at the station," she said, "it's about eleven."
She squinted her eyes as though she were looking at a distant
clock in the railway station.
"Yes," she said, "about eleven, maybe a couple minutes past.
You've got an archaic watch . . ."
Hanging up the phone, she started to laugh.
At that time this sawdust-stuffed little doll might well have
been one of my most welcome guests. But at that particular mo-
ment I was angry with her. I said: "Why do you lie so shame-
lessly. He'll check his watch and see you're lying."
"But he really believed that I'm at the railroad station," she
said, applying some lipstick to her lips.
Having finished with the lipstick, she added: "And what kind
of talk is this anyway. I don't like to hear it at all. I know how
to go about it myself. He runs around with a revolver, threatens
to kill my friends and me with them . . . What's more, he doesn't
even take into account that you're a writer . . . I'm convinced
he'd shoot you splendidly."
I growled something in reply.
When she was dressed, she said: "What's the matter, angry?
Maybe you don't want me to come any more?"
"As you like," I answered.
"Yes, I won't come to you any more," she said. "I can see that
you don't really love me at all."
She left, giving me a haughty toss of the head. She did this
splendidly for her nineteen years.
My God, how I'd weep now! But then I was satisfied. More-
over, within a month she came back.
I consented to give readings in several cities. That was an un-
lucky day in my life.
The first reading was in Kharkov, then one in Rostov.
I was taken aback. They greeted me with storms of applause;
but when I was through, they hardly clapped. That means, some-
how I don't please the audience, I'm cheating it somehow. How?
It's true, I don't read like an actor, but rather monotonously,
sometimes sluggishly. But don't they, after all, come to my per-
formance merely to hear a "humorist" perform? That's it! Maybe
they think: If actors read so amusingly, what will the author
himself kick up with now.
Every evening I was stretched on the rack.
It's hard for me to go out on the stage. The awareness that I'm
"cheating the public again" spoils my composure more and more.
I open the book and I mutter the title of a story.
Someone shouts from the gallery: "Read 'Vania' . . . The
Aristocrat' . . . What rubbish you read!"
"My God!" I think. "Why did I ever agree to these perform-
I take a melancholy look at my watch.
They're sending slips of paper up to the stage. That's a breather
for me. I close the book.
I turn over the first slip. I read it aloud: "If you're the author
of these stories, why are you reading them?"
I'm annoyed. I cry out in response: "But if you're a reader of
these stories, why in the hobgoblin do you listen to them?"
Laughter in the audience, applause.
I unfold another slip: "Why do you read us what we all know,
tell us something funnier, how you managed to get here, for
In a furious voice, I shout: "I sat in the train. My family wept
and begged me not to go. They said: They'll torture you with
idiotic questions.' "
An outburst of applause. Laughter.
Ah, if I'd only walk across the stage on my hands now, or roll
across on a single wheel it would be a dandy performance.
My manager whispers something to me from backstage: "Tell
something about yourself. The audience likes that."
Submissively, I begin to recount my autobiography.
The slips of paper come flying up to the stage again: "Are you
married? . . . How many children do you have? ... Do you know
Esenin? . . ."
It's quarter to eleven. Possible to quit.
Sighing morosely, I leave the stage amidst applause.
I console myself with the thought that these are spectacle
seekers who would show up with the same enthusiasm for the per-
formance of any comedian or juggler.
Without having fulfilled all the terms of my contract, I return
A man enters my room. He sits down in an armchair.
For a moment he sits in silence, listening. Then he gets up
and shuts the door tight.
He goes up to the wall, and, putting his ear to it, he listens.
I begin to grasp that he's a madman.
Having listened at the wall, he sits down in the armchair again
and hides his face with both his hands. I see that he is in a state
"What's wrong?" I ask.
"They're after me," he says. "I was riding in the trolley just
now and I clearly heard voices: There he is ... get him . . . grab
He covers his face with his hands again. Then he says calmly:
"You're the only one who can save me . . ."
"We will change names. You will be Gorshkov, and I will be
the poet Zoshchenko." (That is just what he said: "poet.")
"All right. I agree," I say.
He flings himself toward me and shakes my hand.
"And who is after you?" I ask.
"That I can't say."
"But from now on I've got to know, since I bear your name."
Wringing his hands, he says: "That's just it I don't know
myself. I only hear their voices. And at night I see their hands.
They reach out for me from all sides. I know they will seize me
and strangle me."
His nervous chill communicates itself to me. I don't feel well.
I'm dizzy. There are spots in front of my eyes. If he doesn't
leave right away, I will probably pass out. He influences me
Pulling myself together with all my strength, I mutter: "Go.
You've got my name now. You can rest easy."
He leaves with his face alight.
I lie down in my bed and I feel a terrifying melancholy pos-
[Re-examining these "candid photographs," of which in the
original there are sixty-three, Zoshchenko comes to the con-
clusion that, although he has had a hard life, these incidents,
either in themselves or in their totality, do not really account for
his extreme melancholia. He-begins to feel that the solution to his
problem lies in pushing his memories farther back, to the years of
his childhood. Childhood scenes begin to obsess him.]
From 5 to 15 Years
It is only in myth that the prodigal
son returns to his father's house.
There is a bowl of goldfish on the window sill.
Two fishies are swimming around in the bowl.
I throw them a little piece of sugar. Let them eat. But the fish
swim past indifferently.
Must be they feel ill, that they don't eat. Maybe it's all the
days they spend in water. Now, if they'd only lie on the window
sill for a bit. Then, maybe, they'd have an appetite.
Dipping my hand in the bowl, I haul out the fishies and put
them on the window sill. No, they don't care for it there, either.
They thrash about. And still refuse to eat.
I throw the fishies back into the water again.
But in the water things are even worse for them. Look, now
they're swimming belly up. Must be they're asking out; out of
the fish bowl.
I haul the fishies out again and put them in a cigarette box.
In half an hour, I open the box. The fish have died.
Mama says angrily: "What did you do that for?"
I say: "I wanted them to be better off."
Mother says: "Don't be an idiot. Fish are made to live in
I weep bitterly, humiliated. I know myself that fish are made
to live in water. I only wanted to rescue them from this mis-
GO TO SLEEP, NOW
It's dark in the room. Only a small lamp is burning. Near our
beds, our nurse sits and tells a story.
Rocking on her chair, the nurse speaks monotonously: "The
good fairy dipped her hand under the pillow, and there was a
serpent. She dipped her hand under the mattress, and there were
two serpents and a viper. The fairy looked under the bed, and
there were four serpents, three vipers, and a hedgehog.
"At this the good fairy said not a word, but dipped her feet
in her slippers; but in each slipper, two toads are sitting. The fairy
tore her coat from the hook, to dress herself and leave that place.
She looks, and in each coat sleeve there are six vipers and four
"The fairy gathered all this filth together, and she says: Til
tell you what. I shall wish you no harm, but don't you hinder me
from leaving this place.'
"Then all this filth spoke and answered the good fairy like this:
'We will do you no harm, good fairy. We thank you that you
have not killed us for this.'
"But at this point a thunderclap was heard. And before the
good fairy stood the wicked fairy.
" Tm the one,' she says, 'who loosed all this filth on you. But
you,' she says, 'made friends with them, and that surprises me.
Thanks to this, I am going to enchant you into an ordinary cow.'
At this point a thunderclap was heard again. We look and, in-
stead of the good fairy, an ordinary cow is grazing there . . ."
The nurse falls silent. We tremble in terror. My sister Julia
says: "But what happened to the filth?"
The nurse says: "About that, I don't know. Probably the
wicked fairy scattered them about her place, just as they were."
"Is that under the mattress and under the pillow?" I ask, sitting
up from my pillow.
Nurse rises from her chair and says as she goes out: "Well,
enough talk. Go to sleep, now."
We lie in our beds, afraid to move. Lelia whispers on purpose
in a terribly hoarse voice: "H-o-o-o."
Julia and I give a little shriek of terror. We beg Lelia not to
frighten us. But she is already asleep.
I sit up in bed for a long time, unwilling to risk lying down on
In the morning I refuse to drink milk, because it comes from
the enchanted fairy.
I AM NOT TO BLAME
We are sitting at the table eating bliny.
Suddenly, my father takes my plate and begins to eat my
bliny. I bellow.
My father is wearing glasses. He looks serious. Has a beard.
Nevertheless, he laughs. He says: "Look how greedy he is. He
begrudges his father a single >//n."
I say: "One blin if you like; eat. I thought you were going
to eat them all."
The soup is brought in.
I say: "Papa, would you like my soup?"
Papa says: "No, I will wait until dessert. Then, if you let me
have your dessert you really are a good boy."
Thinking we were going to have cranberry sauce with milk for
dessert, I say: "If you like. You may eat my dessert."
Suddenly they bring in whipped cream, to which I am by no
Pushing my plate of whipped cream over toward my father,
I say: "If you like, eat it; if you are so greedy."
My father frowns and leaves the table.
My mother says: "Go to your father and excuse yourself."
I say: "I won't go. I am not to blame."
I leave the table without having touched my dessert.
In the evening, when I'm lying in my bed, my father comes up
to me. He is holding my plate of whipped cream in his hands.
My father says: "Well, why didn't you eat your whipped
I say: "Papa, let's go halves. Why should we quarrel about it?"
My father kisses me and feeds me the whipped cream with a
IN THE STUDIO
[In a number of previous sketches not included here Zosh-
chenko already indicated something of the complex relationship
between his mother and his handsome artist-father, much loved
Papa has not been with us for a long time. My mother is dress-
ing me, and we are going to see my father in his studio.
Mama walks hurriedly. She pulls me by the hand and I can
hardly keep up.
We climb to the seventh floor. We knock. Papa opens the door.
Seeing us, he frowns at first. Then, taking me in his arms, he
throws me up in the air, almost to the ceiling. He laughs and
Mama smiles. She sits down with papa beside her, on the divan.
And they start up some sort of mysterious conversation. I walk
around the studio. There are paintings on the easels. On the walls
there are also paintings. Immense windows. Disorder.
I look at the boxes of paints. Brushes. All kinds of little bottles.
I've seen it all already, but my parents are still talking. It's
very pleasant that they are talking so quietly, without shouting.
They are not quarreling.
I do not disturb them. I walk around the boxes and the pictures
a second time.
At last my father says to my mother: "Well, I'm very glad.
All is well."
When we say good-bye, he kisses mama. And mama kisses
him. And they even embrace.
Dressed in our coats again, we leave.
On the way, mama suddenly begins to scold me. She says: "Ah,
why are you strapped on to me? . . ."
I found this rather strange. I wasn't strapped to her at all. She
herself had dragged me to the studio. And now she was dis-
Mama says: "Ah, how sorry I am I brought you with me. With-
out you, we would have made up for good."
I whimper. But I whimper because I don't understand what
I've done wrong. I had behaved quietly. I hadn't even run around
the studio. And now such injustice.
My mother says: "No, I will not take you with me any more."
I wanted to ask her what it was, what had happened. But I
keep silent. I would grow up and then everything would become
clear. It would become clear why people were blamed for things
when they had done absolutely nothing wrong.
[Zoshchenko concludes that, although he was a difficult child,
and a number of sad and even tragic things occurred to him,
these by no means serve to account for his melancholy, and his
childhood was not at all unusual. He decides that the trouble must
lie farther back, in the murky period "before the sun rises," his
early childhood between the ages of two and five. Here he has
only very fragmentary glimpses of himself, surrounded by dark-
ness. But as he thinks of these, he feels his excitement growing,
and concludes that he must be approaching "the wound." One of
these glimpses is given below.]
V. BEFORE THE SUN RISES
OPEN YOUR MOUTH
On the blanket an empty box of matches. The matches are
in my mouth.
Someone yells: "Open your mouth!"
I open my mouth. I spit out the matches.
Some fingers fish around in my mouth. They pull out a few
matches still there.
Someone is crying. I am crying louder, and for this reason:
because the matches tasted bitter, and because they were taken
out of my mouth.
[These fragmentary memories fail to disclose, however, what
Zoshchenko was looking for. He concludes that he must push
even farther back, to the period before two years, to the pre-
conscious stage. But here words and memory fail. As a way to a
solution, Zoshchenko begins to read works on the physiological
aspect of the psyche, especially Pavlov. There follows a lucid
but rather elementary digression on Pavlov, an exposition of
what is meant by "conditioned reflexes," "temporary associa-
tions," etc., and a description of some of Pavlov's experiments
with dogs and monkeys. What follows is a classic example of
Freudian self-analysis, in spite of the Pavlovian conclusions.
Whatever its interest or lack of interest as a contribution to sci-
ence, it is translated below as a vivid, partly sardonic, partly
heroic, self-portrait of the author and his troubles.]
This great discovery, this law of conditioned reflexes, this law
of temporary nervous associations I wanted to apply it to my
I wanted to see this law in action, in concrete examples from
my early life.
It seemed to me that my unhappiness could have arisen from
ftie fact that early in my life "untrue" conditioned associations
had been established in my brain, which haunted me in terror
through my later development. It seemed to me that spray terri-
fied me, and that by this means the poison must at some time have
I wanted to destroy these erroneous mechanisms that had been
established in my brain.
But once again there was an obstacle before me. I could re-
member nothing of my early life.
If I could only remember even one scene, a single event, I
might press on farther. No, it was all wrapped in a cloudy ob-
But someone told me that if I wanted to remember something
forgotten, it would help to go back to the place where it had
occurred, and that then what was forgotten might be more easily
I asked my relatives where we had lived when I was a child.
And my relatives told me where I had lived during the first years
of my life.
There had been three houses. But one had burned down. In
another I had lived when I was two. In the third I had spent no
less than five years, from the age of four.
And there was still another house. This house was in the coun-
try where my parents went every summer.
I wrote down the addresses, and with unusual agitation I went
to have a look at these old houses.
I looked for a long time at the house in which I had lived as
a three-year-old. But I could remember absolutely nothing.
And then I went to the house in which I had lived for five years.
My heart fell when I approached the gates of this house.
My God! How familiar everything seemed here. I recognized
the stairway, the little garden, the yard, the gates.
I recognized almost everything. And yet, how unlike it was
my memories of it.
At one time the house had seemed like an immense hulk, a
skyscraper. Before me now stood a smallish, rather shabby three-
At one time the garden had seemed fabulous, mysterious. Now
I saw a pitiful little patch.
It had seemed that a massive, high iron fence had girdled this
little garden. Now I touched pitiful iron bars no higher than my
How different the eyes were, then and now!
I climbed up to the third floor and found the door to our apart-
My heart contracted from some obscure pain. I felt badly.
Convulsively, I grasped the banister, without understanding what
was wrong or what disturbed me so.
I ran down the stairs and sat for a long time on the pedestal
by the gate. I sat until the gatekeeper approached. Eyeing me
suspiciously, he ordered me to leave.
I returned home quite sick, exhausted, disturbed without know-
ing by what.
In a terrible melancholy, I returned home. And now this
melancholy did not leave me day or night.
By day I lumbered about my room I could neither lie down
nor sit. By night terrible dreams tormented me.
Formerly, I had not had any dreams. Or, rather, I had them
but forgot. They were brief and incomprehensible. I usually had
them toward morning.
Now they appeared as soon as I shut my eyes.
They were not even dreams. They were nightmares, terrible
scenes, from which I awoke in terror.
I began to take bromides to stifle these nightmares, to be more
at peace. But the bromides didn't help.
Then I called a certain doctor and begged him to give me
something against these nightmares.
When he learned that I was taking bromides, the doctor said:
"What are you doing?! On the contrary, you need to see these
dreams. You have them because you are thinking about your
childhood. These dreams are the key to your illness. Only in your
dreams will you see those scenes from infancy that you are look-
ing for. Only through the dream can you penetrate that long
Then I told the doctor my latest dream, and he began to
analyze it. But he analyzed it in such a way that I was disturbed
and did not trust him.
I said I had seen tigers in my dream and some kind of hand
emerging from the wall.
The doctor said: "It's more than clear. Your parents took you
to the zoo too young. There you saw an elephant. Its trunk
frightened you. The hand that's a trunk. The trunk that's a
phallus. You have a sexual trauma."
I did not trust this doctor and I was disturbed. Having taken
some offense, he answered me: "I analyzed your dream according
to Freud. I'm a disciple of his. There is no truer science that can
Then I called several more doctors. Some laughed, saying that
the analysis of dreams was nonsense. Others, on the contrary,
attributed the greatest significance to dreams.
Among these latter, there was one very clever doctor. He ex-
plained a lot to me and told me a lot. And I listened very at-
tentively to him. I even wanted to become a disciple of his. But
then I rejected this notion. It seemed to me that he wasn't right.
I did not believe in his therapy.
He was a frightful opponent of Pavlov. Except for experiments
of a zoological nature, he saw nothing in the latter's work. He
was an orthodox Freudian. In every act of child or adult, he saw
the sexual. He analyzed every dream in terms of erotomania.
This method did not concur with what I considered infallible;
it did not concur with Pavlov's method, with the principle of
Nevertheless, the method of this therapy struck me.
There is something absurd in the discussion of dreams. It had
seemed to me that such preoccupations had sprung to life from
the minds of old women and people of a mystical bent.
It had seemed to me that this was incompatible with science.
I was very surprised when I learned that all of medicine had
arisen, essentially, from a single source, from a single cult from
the science of dreams.
All of ancient, so-called "temple," medicine had developed and
had been cultivated on a single basis the analysis of dreams.
This was the significance of the cult of Aesculapius, the son of
Apollo, the god of healing among the Greeks.
[There follows a brief digression on Greek medicine. Zosh-
chenko then returns to modern works on the physiology of
What is a dream from the point of view of contemporary
First of all, it is a certain physiological condition from which
all the external manifestations of consciousness are absent. Or,
better all the higher psychic functions are excluded, and the
lower ones released.
Pavlov considered that at night a man was "disconnected"
from the external world, and during sleep inhibited forces came
to life, suppressed emotions, repressed desires.
This occurs because while there is some inhibition operative
during sleep, it is only partial: it does not cover the whole of our
brain; it does not cover all points of those great hemispheres.
Our brain, in the opinion of physiologists, has, as it were, two
levels. The higher level is the cortex. This is the center of con-
trol, logic, the critical faculties, the centers of acquired reflexes,
life experience. And the lower level is the source of inherited re-
flexes, the source of animal drives, animal powers.
These two levels are joined together by means of the associa-
tions or connections of nerves, which we have already mentioned.
At night the higher level sinks into sleep. Therefore, con-
sciousness is absent. Control, the critical faculties, acquired
habits, these are all absent.
The lower level continues to keep its watch. The absence of
control, however, permits it to some degree to declare itself to the
Let us suppose that logic or intellect has hindered or stifled
the terror that rose up at one time in the child. In the absence of
control, the terror may rise up again. But when it rises up again,
it assumes new shapes.
Therefore, the new shape is a continuation of the man's psychic
activity in the absence of control.
And, therefore, the new shape may serve as a clue to the
nature of the forces that inhibit the man, that terrify him, and that
are capable of snuffing the light of logic, the light of con-
It becomes comprehensible why ancient medicine attributed
such significance to dreams.
And so, our brain has two levels a higher and a lower.
Life experience, acquired habits, keep house with inherited
** * Further developments have shown that the dream is not the only means
by which one can get at the reason for pathological inhibition.
experience, with the habits of our ancestors, with the habits of
As though there were two worlds enclosed in the complex
apparatus of our brain the civilized world and the world of the
These two worlds are often in conflict. The higher forces strug-
gle with the lower. They conquer them and push them lower
down, but rarely do they entirely banish them.
This struggle would seem to be the source of many a nervous
But this is not at all the source of trouble.
I do not wish to run too far ahead of myself, but I will linger
on this briefly. Even if one admits that this conflict of the higher
with the lower is the cause of nervous ailments, it is by no means
all-embracing; it is only a partial reason, by no means the most
important, and by no means basic.
This conflict of the higher with the lower could (let us assume)
lead to certain sexual psychoneuroses. But if science saw in this
conflict, in this struggle, the only cause it could go no farther
than the revelation of sexual inhibitions.
This struggle, however, is a kind of norm. It is not a pathology.
It seems to me that on precisely this point, Freud's system goes
This mistake was an easy one to make since the mechanisms
revealed by Pavlov were not taken into account.
Inaccuracy in his basic assumptions, lack of clear focus in his
formulation of the struggle between the higher and the lower
forces, led Freud to an inaccurate conclusion, led him to one side,
to the side of the sexual drives. But this did not encompass the
matter. This was only part of a whole.
In the conflict of the higher with the lower, in the collision
of atavistic drives with the emotion of modern, civilized man,
Freud saw the source of nervous ailments. Freud wrote: "For-
bidden entry into civilized life and driven into the depths of the
subconscious, these drives exist and make themselves felt, erupt-
ing into our consciousness in a distorted manner . . ." Therefore,
the victory of intellect over animal instincts is seen as a cause for
tragedy. In other words the lofty intellect is subjected to doubt.
There are many occasions in the history of human thought in
which troubles were ascribed to the intellect, in which assaults
were made on the notion of a high state of consciousness, and
therefore people sometimes saw the tragedy of human life as
residing in a high state of consciousness, in the conflict between
the higher and the lower forces. It seemed to them that the victory
of consciousness over the lower instincts bore a terrible burden,
the burden of disease, nervous ailments, weakness of spirit, psy-
This seemed a tragedy from which there was only one way out
a return to the past, a return to nature, leaving civilization
behind. It seemed that the ways of the human intellect were mis-
taken, artificial, unnecessary.
I do not consider this philosophy as the equivalent of the phi-
losophy of fascism. Fascism has other roots, a different nature;
but as far as its attitude toward the intellect is concerned, Fascism
did draw something from this philosophy, distorting it, simplify-
ing, lowering it to the level of the dull of wit.
A return to barbarism this is not simply a formula invented
by the Fascists for the needs of war. This is one of the basic
principles of Fascism, its basic draft of the future image of man.
Better barbarism, savagery, the instincts of an animal, than
the further progress of consciousness.
People, artificially returned to barbarism, would in no way
escape the nervous ailments that alarm them. Scoundrels would
populate the world, from whom all responsibility for their vile-
ness had been removed. But these would still be scoundrels who
had not escaped their former ailments. These would be suffering
scoundrels, even more unhealthy than they had been before.
The return to harmonious barbarism, concerning which people
had fantasies, would not have been possible even a thousand years
ago. But even if it had been possible the source of sufferings
would have remained. For the mechanisms of the brain would
have remained. We are unable to destroy them. We can only study
and adjust them. And we must study them with an art that is
worthy of high consciousness.
These mechanisms revealed by Pavlov, we must study them
until we have reached a full understanding. The capacity to come
to terms with them will free us from those immense sufferings
which people tolerate with barbaric resignation.
The tragedy of the human intellect proceeds not from the
height of consciousness, but from its insufficiency.
And so, having pondered all this, I understood that I could
now attempt to penetrate into the closed-off world of infancy.
The keys were in my hands.
At night the doors of the lower level open. The sentinels of
my consciousness sleep. And then, the shadows of the past,
languishing underground, appear in their transfigurations.
I wanted to meet these shadows immediately, to see them, in
order finally to understand the tragedy or error that had been
performed in the light of day, before the sun rose.
I wanted to bring back to mind one of those dreams of not
long ago, of which I had seen so many. But I could not recall a
single dream in full. I had forgotten.
Then I began to think about the dreams I had most often, about
what I saw in them.
And at this point I recalled that I most often saw tigers that
entered my room, beggars who stood at my doors, and the sea
in which I swam.
VI. DARK WATERS
Accidentally, I visited the village where I had spent my child-
I had been thinking of going there for some time. And then,
strolling along the riverbank, I saw a steamer at a wharf. Almost
mechanically, I got aboard this steamer, sat down, and went to
The village was called Peski ("Sands"). It was on the Neva
River, not far from Schliisselburg.
I had not been in those parts for more than twenty years.
The steamer did not stop at the village Peski. There was no
wharf there. I crossed the Neva in a rowboat.
Ah, with what agitation I got out on the shore. I instantly
recognized the small round chapel. It was intact. I instantly re-
membered the huts opposite, the village street, and the winding
ascent from the shore, where there had at that time been a wharf.
All this now seemed a sorry miniature, compared to the grandi-
ose world that had remained in my memory.
I walked along the street, and everything there was so familiar
it hurt. Except the people. I could not recognize a single one of
the people I met.
Then I entered the yard of the house where we had once lived.
In the yard stood a woman no longer young. In her hands was
an oar. She had just chased a calf out of the yard. And now she
was standing there angry and flushed.
She did not want to talk with me. But I mentioned the names
of several villagers whom I remembered.
No, all these names belonged to people already dead.
Then I mentioned my own family name. And the woman
smiled. She said she had been a very young girl then, but she
remembered my dead parents very well. Then she began to
mention the names of our relatives who had lived here, the names
of acquaintances. No, all the names mentioned also belonged to
Sadly I returned to my boat.
Sadly I walked along the village street. Only the street and
the houses were the same. The people who lived in them were
different. Those from the past had lived here as guests and gone
away, disappeared. They would never return. They had died.
It seemed to me that I understood that day what life was, and
death, and how one had to live.
With heightened sorrow, I returned home. And at home I did
not even begin to think of my searchings, of my childhood. I was
indifferent to everything that had happened to me.
It all seemed trash and nonsense compared to the image of brief
life I had seen today.
Is it worth while thinking, struggling, searching, defending
oneself? Is it worth while trying to master a life that flashes past
headlong at such offensive, such absurd speed?
Wouldn't it be better just to live along without grumbling, and
then give up one's sorry place to other fugitives of the earth?
Someone laughed in the next room, just as I was thinking about
these things. And it seemed strange and savage to me that people
could laugh, joke, or even talk, when everything was so stupid,
so senseless, so offensive.
It seemed to me easier and simpler to die than to wait stub-
bornly and dimly for that fate which awaits everyone. In this
decision I unexpectedly saw manliness. How amazed I would have
been if someone had said to me then what I now know, that this
was not manliness at all, but rather an extreme degree of in-
fantilism. It was produced by the terror I had felt as an infant
confronted now by that which I wanted to find. It was resistance.
It was flight.
I decided to put an end to my searchings. And with this de-
cision I fell asleep.
During the night I awoke in terror from a frightening dream.
My terror was so strong that I continued to tremble even after
I woke up.
I turned on a light and wrote my dream down so I could think
about it in the morning, if only out of curiosity.
But I could not get to sleep, and I began to think about this
In substance, the dream was an extremely stupid one. A dark,
stormy river. Murky, almost black waters. Something white floats
on the water a piece of paper or a rag. I am on the shore. That
is, I'm running hard as I can away from the shore. I'm running
along a field. The field for some reason is sky blue. And someone
is pursuing me. And he's catching up and wants to grab me by
the shoulder. This man's hand is already reaching out for me.
Flinging myself forward, I escape.
I began to ponder this dream, but understood it not at all.
And then I began to think that here again I had seen water in
a dream. This dark, black water . . . And suddenly I recalled
An old, old dream . . . Out of the shadows
The street lights run but where?
Only black waters there,
Only oblivion forever.
That dream was very like mine.
I was running from the black waters, from "oblivion forever."
I began to remember dreams connected with water. Now I am
swimming in a stormy sea. I'm struggling with the waves. Now
I'm wandering off somewhere, water up to my knees. Or I'm
sitting on the shore, and the water breaks at my feet. Or Tm
walking along the very edge of the shore. And suddenly the water
begins to rise higher and higher. Terror seizes me. I run away.
I remembered yet another dream. I'm sitting in my room.
Suddenly, from all the chinks, the floor is flooded with water.
Another minute and the room will be full of water.
I usually woke from such dreams, weary, sick, and dispirited.
My melancholy usually waxed stronger after such dreams.
Perhaps the frequent floods in Leningrad had influenced my
psyche? Perhaps there was something else connected with water?
No doubt water was connected with some powerful sensation.
Perhaps I was afraid of water in general? No. On the contrary.
Fm very fond of water. I can admire the sea for hours. I usually
travel only where the sea is, or a river. I have always tried to
find a room with windows on the water. I have always liked to
imagine living somewhere on the shore: very close to the water,
so that the waves would reach almost to the porch of my house.
Often the sea or a river had returned me to peace and calm,
when I was in the grips of that melancholy which visited me so
What if this were not a love for water, but terror?
What if, behind this exaggerated love, a deferential terror were
Perhaps I do not like water, but put up with it? Perhaps I
like it when it is calm, when it does not threaten to drown me?
Perhaps I put up with it from the shore, from the window of
my room? Perhaps I go closer to it in order to be more secure,
to make sure that it won't take me by surprise?
Perhaps it is that kind of terror that does not reach conscious-
ness, that imbeds itself in the lower level of the psyche, im-
prisoned there by logic, by the control of intellect?
I laughed. It seemed at the same time so absurd and so right.
No doubt remained. A terror of the water existed in my mind.
But it was deformed. It did not have the shape by which we gen-
erally recognize it.
Then it seemed to me that I understood my dream. It un-
doubtedly related to the days of my infancy. In order to under-
stand it, it was necessary to abstract the usual forms, it was neces-
sary to think in the images of an infant, to see it with an infant's
Of course, not entirely with his eyes undoubtedly they were
too inadequate. They changed with his development. But their
symbolism, evidently, remained as before.
The murky, stormy river that was a bath or a tub of water.
The blue shore a blanket. The white rag a diaper that re-
mained in the tub. The child has been taken out of the water
in which he had been bathed. The child was "saved." But the
I laughed again. This was absurd, but believable. It was naive,
but not more naive than it should have been.
But how could this come to pass? All infants are bathed. All
children are immersed in water. Terror does not remain with
them. Why was I terrified? It means that water was not the prime
reason, I thought. It means that there are some other objects of
terror, associated with water.
At this point I remembered the principle of conditioned re-
A single stimulus could evoke two centers of alarm, for be-
tween them a conditional nervous association must have been
The water in which I had been immersed could hardly in itself
have aroused the agitation I felt. That means the water must have
been conditionally associated with something else. That means
it was not concerning the water I felt terror, but that the water
evoked terror, for nervous associations connected it with yet some
other threat. In this connection lay the solution to the problem,
and that was the reason water had the power to terrify.
But with what was water associated? What kind of "poison"
did it contain? What does the second unfortunate stimulant con-
sist of, "igniting" in combination such a stormy response?
I still had not begun to guess at the second stimulus, the second
center of alarm, with which the nervous associations were so
However, this stimulus was already in part apparent from the
dream itself. The world of infancy is a meager one, objects are
very limited in their number. Stimuli are by no means numerous.
But my inexperience did not permit me to discover this second
The riddle was not solved, but the keys were in my hands.
Further events showed that I was basically not mistaken. I was
mistaken only in the number of centers of alarm. They turned
out to be not two, but several. And they were interlaced with
each other by a complex network of conditioned associations.
The principle of conditioned reflexes states that nervous associ-
ations have a temporary character. A repetition of experience is
required before they become confirmed. Without such experi-
ences, they die down or disappear altogether.
Well, so. Water in the given instance was an excellent and
frequent stimulus in an infant's life. Repetition, there undoubtedly
was. I still did not know the nature of the second stimulus, but
it seemed understandable to me that its conditional association
with water could b$ confirmed.
With the child's development, however, this association should
have disappeared. For the repetition could not recur perpetually.
For it was not an infant and not an adolescent, but, finally, now,
a mature man whom this false association could tear apart. But
it was false, mistaken that was obvious.
One's intellectual development really does struggle with untrue,
false, illogical images. The child, while developing, however,
could meet with other, more logical indications of the danger of
that which he fears.
Once again, I began to examine my memories associated with
Indications of the danger of water were at every hand.
People drown in water. I can drown. Water floods the city.
Suicides fling themselves into water.
These are weighty indications of the danger of water.
No doubt it could terrify a child, prove to him that the in-
fantile images he had formed had been correct.
This kind of "false" proof might have accompanied me all my
life. Undoubtedly, that's the way it had been. Water preserved
the elements of fear, nourished my infantile terror. The temporary
associations formed in connection with water might not have dis-
appeared; they might have been more and more powerfully con-
That means that a man's intellectual development does not
destroy the temporary conditional associations, it merely trans-
forms them, lifts these false indications to its own level of de-
velopment. And perhaps it seeks out these indications obsequi-
ously, not testing them too hard, for even without verification
they may well establish neighborly relations with a logic that
grows on sickly soil.
These false indications are often intermeshed with authentic
indications. Water really is dangerous. But the neurotic does not
accept this danger in its true measure, and his reaction to this
danger is also not in the measure of the normal.
But if this were so, if water was one of the elements of my fear,
one of the stimuli of my neurotic complex, then how sad and
pitiful was the picture that opened before my gaze.
For they had been treating me with water. With water they
had been trying to rescue me from my melancholy.
They had been prescribing water both inside and out. They
sat me in baths, rolled me in wet sheets, sprayed me with showers.
They sent me to the sea to travel and to swim.
My God! From this therapy alone my melancholy might easily
This therapy could intensify the conflict, could create an im-
And yet water was only part of the trouble, perhaps even an
The therapy, however, did not create an impasse. It was possi-
ble to avoid this therapy. And so I did. I ceased taking the cure.
In order to cure myself, I invented a by-no-means-stupid theory
that for fullness of health a man must be always at work, without
interruption. I stopped going to sanatoriums; it was a superfluous
In this way, I liberated myself from the therapy.
But I could not liberate myself from constant confrontations
with that which frightened me. The terror continued to exist.
This terror was unconscious. It was sequestered in the lower
level of my psyche. The sentinels of my intellect did not allow it
freedom. It had the right to emerge only at night, when my con-
sciousness was not in control.
This terror lived a nocturnal life, in transfigurations. But by
day, in confrontation with the object of fear, it declared itself
only by indirection by mysterious symptoms which could escape
the diagnosis of any doctor.
We know what terror is, we know its action on the work of our
body. We know its defensive reflexes. Basically, they are attempts
to escape danger.
The symptoms of terror are various. They depend on the force
of the terror. They express themselves in the form of nosebleeds,
spasms of coughing, muscular cramps, increased speed of heart-
beat, and so forth. An extreme degree of terror brings on partial
or full paralysis.
These were precisely the symptoms that my unconscious terror
created. To some degree they were expressed in heart attacks,
shortness of breath, spasms, and muscular cramps.
These were, above all, the symptoms of terror. Its chronic pres-
ence violated the normal functioning of my body, created con-
stant inhibitions, led to chronic incapacities.
At the basis of these symptoms was a certain "expediency"
they blocked my way to "danger"; they prepared flight.
The animal who cannot escape danger plays dead.
Now I was playing dead, sick, weak, whenever it was impossi-
ble to get away from "danger."
All this was a response to a stimulus received from outside. It
was a complex response, for the conditioned nervous associations,
as we shall see farther on, were quite complicated.
I struggled with this malady, defended myself from this uncon-
scious ill. And the nature of my defense always corresponded to
the stage of my development.
In my childish years, my behavior usually reduced itself to
flight, but to some extent it rose to a desire to master water, to
make it "my own." I tried to learn how to swim. But I did not
learn. Terror held me firmly in its grip.
I learned to swim only as an adolescent, fighting this terror.
This was my first victory, and, if you like, my only one. I
remember how proud I was.
In later years, too, my consciousness did not lead me away
from this struggle. On the contrary, my consciousness forced me
to it. I always tried to come to grips with my formidable opponent
as quickly as I could, to measure forces with him once again.
Actually, there was a conflict here which disguised my terror.
I did not avoid steamers, rowboats, I did not avoid being on the
sea. Against my terror, as it were, I went constantly into single
combat. My consciousness did not want to admit defeat, or even
lack of spirit.
I recall an incident at the front. I was leading my battalion to
a position. Before us was a river. I hesitated for a moment. The
crossing was not a difficult one; nevertheless, I sent scouts to right
and left to find an easier crossing. I sent them in the secret hope
of finding some dry way across the river.
It was the beginning of summer and such a path was unthink-
I was troubled only for a moment. I called the scouts back and
led the battalion across the river.
I remember my agitation when we entered the water. I remem-
ber the pounding of my heart which I could scarcely control.
It seemed that I had acted correctly. Crossings were always
the same. And I was happy that I had not hesitated, that I had
That means, I was not a blind instrument in the grip of my
terror. My behavior was always the product of duty, conscience,
consciousness. But the symptoms of a malady were all too ob-
vious. I knew nothing of their origin. Doctors defined them
roughly as a neurosis produced by exhaustion.
Sensing an inequality in the opposing forces, nevertheless I
continued to wage a struggle against my unconscious terror. But
how strangely this struggle went. What strange paths were found
to a dubious victory.
The thirty-year-old man tried to liberate himself from his terror
by a systematic study of water. The struggle proceeded along the
line of knowledge, of science.
All my journals and notebooks began to fill up with informa-
tion about water.
These journals are now before me. I go through them with a
smile. Here are notes concerning the most violent storms and
floods in the world. Here are the most detailed figures the depth
of seas and oceans. Here is information about the stormier waters.
About rocky shores, which boats dare not approach. About water-
Here is information about people who have been drowned.
About artificial respiration and first aid.
Here is a note underlined in red pencil: "71 per cent of the
earth's surface is under water, and only 29 per cent is dry."
A tragic note! Written in red pencil: "Three-fourths of the
Here are other tragic notes, concerning the percentage of water
in the bodies of people, animals, and plants: "Fish 70-80 per
cent; jellyfish 96 per cent; potato 75 per cent; bones 50 per
cent . . ."
What enormous labor! How senseless.
Here is a whole notebook full of information about winds. It's
understandable the cause of floods, storms, tempests.
Excerpts from my notes: "3 meters a second stirs the leaves;
10 meters a second rocks large branches; 20 meters a second
strong wind; 30 meters a second storm; 35 meters a second
storm, on the verge of a hurricane; 40 meters a second hurri-
cane, destroys houses."
Under this, a supplement: " *ty-,' extreme; 'phoon,' wind;
typhoon in 1892 (island of Mauritius) 54 meters a second!"
Here is still another notebook on Leningrad floods.
Paging through these notebooks of mine, I smiled at first. Then
the smile changed to a frown. What a tragic struggle. What an
"intellectual" and, at the same time, what a barbaric path my
consciousness had found to subdue the opponent, to destroy
terror, to maintain a victory.
What a tragic path was found. It corresponded to my intel-
This path found a reflection in my writing.
But at this point I should make some reservations. I do not
at all wish to say that this path terror and the wish to overcome
it predetermined my life, my footsteps, my behavior, my melan-
choly, my literary intentions.
Not at all. My conduct remained exactly as it would have if
the terror had never existed. But the terror complicated my foot-
steps, reinforced my incapacity, and heightened my melancholy,
which might have existed even without it for reasons and cir-
cumstances which all people share.
Terror did not predetermine the way, but it was one element
in a complex of forces.
It would be a mistake not to take this element into account.
But it would be an even cruder mistake to take this element for
the totality, as the only force acting on a man.
Only in a complex account can the problem be solved.
We have seen this complexity in my conduct. The prime mover
was not terror but other forces duty, intellect, conscience.
My conduct was basically intelligent. Terror did not lead me
by the hand, like a blind man. But it lived in me, violated the
healthy functioning of my body, and prompted me to flee "dan-
gers" when higher feelings or obligations were not present.
It pressed down on me and influenced my physical condition.
My consciousness was determined to root it out. Intellectual
development discovered the way of knowledge. The professional
habits of a writer also took part in this struggle. Among many
themes which absorbed me was a theme connected with water.
To this, I had a special inclination.
For half a year I studied materials dealing with the wreck of
the "Black Prince."
I diligently studied everything that related to it. I made my-
self familiar with diving operations and with the work of reclama-
tion. I gathered literature on all inventions in this area.
Having finished my book, The Black Prince, I immediately
began to collect materials on the wreck of the "Submarine 55." I
never finished that book. The theme ceased to absorb me, for
about this time I discovered a more intelligent way to pursue
And so, by the systematic study of water in all its properties,
I wished to free myself from my misfortune, from my uncon-
scious terror. This terror was not even related to water. But water
evoked the terror, for it was conditionally connected with the
other object of my fear.
What a tragic struggle. What grief and suffering it inflicted on
But how can one speak of the malady of a high state of con-
One can only speak of an intellect that lacks knowledge. One
can only speak of the small, unfortunate savage who makes his
way along a narrow cliff side path, barely touched by the first rays
of the morning sun.
And so, convinced of my strength, I proceeded farther in pur-
suit of the unhappy incident that had provoked my malady.
To Be Continued
[Alas, it was not to be. Presumably, Zoshchenko had completed
his self-analysis, and it had been accepted for publication, when
he and the editors of the journal in which the above appeared
were viciously attacked by party officials. The editors apologized
abjectly. The rest of Zoshchenko's "autobiography" has never